Now I know this bread doesn't look impressive. I was considering the idea of a post with no picture. Even I can do better than this at shaping a baguette the proper way, though I am far from an expert. . But there's a good reason for these aberrant loaves, and I'm going to tell you what that is, if you will be patient with me, while I take a little ride on a hobby horse.
There is no way that I am going to turn out an optimal loaf of bread in my kitchen. I know I don't have the oven for it, and even if I did, I wouldn't be at all confident that I could produce anything approaching my personal gold standard- the Acme rustic baguette. If I could buy anything close to this sort of thing here in town, I'd just go to that fine place, buy it and be done with it, and go home happy.
The problem is, I am a teeny bit obsessed with this kind of bread, and I don't get any. Ever. Now that my daughter no longer lives in Berkeley, I don't have much of an excuse to visit. (I did drag my English cousin to the bay area on a recent visit, but it wasn't for the bread, really.) I rejoice that my favorite family members are now in Cleveland, close to Pittsburgh; bread isn't everything,after all. But it is bread, and I think most folks would agree that bread is important.
I admire lots of different yeasty baked things,including seedy wholegrain sandwich breads, bialys, roti, paranthas, plezlach, and so on, but I would dearly love to have a ready supply of dark brown, snappy crusted, wheaty tasting bread, with slightly chewy, off-white innards, full of various different sized holes. And if it could be in a convenient baguette shape, that would be a plus.
A lot of people think I'm crazy on this subject, and that the bread from the Allegro Hearth Bakery, (expensive, fancy, located in my own Squirrel Hill neighborhood), or the Breadworks (located on the Northside, cheaper, better, available in many other outlets) is just dandy. I don't hate it or anything, but I think it is Pathetically Underdone and Pallid. Why don't they finish baking their bread, I wonder? Is it the fear that customers will reject anything too far from the factory bread or heat-and-serve model?
I don't think I'm entirely alone. Whenever I've been in New York, for example, I have found my preferred type bread in more than one place, without making a ridiculous effort. So when I've been desperate for the sort of bread I want, over the years, I've made a number of attempts at producing some approximation of it myself. The two Acme recipes in the Maggie Glezer book are pretty good. They don't taste like the original, at least as made by me, but I like them better than anything I can buy around here, and I've made them fairly frequently.
Recently though, I've been making an odd recipe that I really like, from a Peter Reinhart book that I got out of the library-I'm afraid I can't remember which one-he has alot. I had not been generally all that keen on his cookbooks; he seemed to me to incline a bit too much toward the school of putting extra stuff into your bread-like cheese and things- to make it taste different. (Not that I object to all additions to bread. Toasted walnuts in bread - so good to eat along with some good cheese that I can hardly stand it, for example.) I was sorry about this, since he sounds a particularly nice person. But this recipe is a favorite of mine. It does produce a funny looking baguette, as you see. Because the dough is extremely wet, you can't shape it by the usual crafty methods, but I don't mind the weirdness. Because to my mind, it tastes quite similar the real thing. And... it is uniquely easy to make and..ta!ta! smells great, even after cooling.
This is a recipe Reinhart got from a parisian baker, who calls it "Baguettes Ancienne", even though you can't make it without a fridge and an electric mixer, and he seems to have pulled the whole recipe..., well, you know.. This businessman probably knows his audience, his parisian customers would most likely not want to buy some newfangled idea of a baguette. No Baguettes Nouveau for them.
Presumably, the paris pro has some clever technique for making these look more presentable, too, or they would not be flying out his door. I can tell you that whatever that may be, it is not the usual bagette shaping deal. I have tried that, and you need to use so much extra flour that the bread texture is pretty much ruined.(Maybe he extrudes them from a machine or something, since they are so ancienne.)
If you are willing to put up with its homely appearance, you may find this a handy bread to make. For me, it is a great boon when when I get crazy for my favorite kind of bread. If you are a proficient bread maker, you probably don't need this recipe. But I love it. This is what you do:
Part I: Night before baking:
3 cups King Arthur's All Purpose Unbleached Flour
1/8 tsp sea salt*(see note below)
1 scant tsp instant yeast (not quick rising, instant)
1 1/2 cups ice water Make this by putting ice in 1 3/4 cups
water in a measuring cup for 3 minutes, remove ice, measure
Put flour salt and yeast in the bowl of a Kitchenaid type mixer, with the paddle attachment. On medium slow, slowly add the water. What you are going for here is a mixture that sticks to the bottom, but releases on the bowl sides. Correct with flour and/or icewater as needed, at some point switching to a dough hook. Knead 6 minutes with hook. Transfer to a floured bowl, covered. Refrigerate overnight.
Part II:Next day
Remove from fridge. Wait 3 hours. As you get near the end of the time turn on your oven. If it is an ordinary oven like mine, crank it up as high as it will go. Really. With a tile liner, if you have one- a pizza stone kind of thing. If not, I don't know if this will work, but you could try a cookie sheet, without sides.
Turn over another cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, and cover with a sheet of parchment. No, do not use your bread peel, unless it is huge, and you can fit all 3 loaves on at once, space between, with the parchment under them. Otherwise, it won't work , this stuff is really, really sticky, and you can't move it until it's baked some.
Plop dough onto a floured surface, and divide into 3 parts with a scissors or dough scraper. Here is the tricky bit. You wish to persuade each of these to take on an approximation of the baguette shape. Flour your hands. I find pulling and twisting is easiest- hence the corkscrew effect. Set these, as you make them, evenly spaced on the back of your lined cookie sheet, as you wish them to appear on your pizza stone, without danger of melding.
2nd tricky bit- slit each baguette diagonally several times with a very sharp knife. If they resist, being too sticky, cut diagonally with scissors. This creates a peaked effect which I prefer to view as a charming, rustic touch. Now, open your oven door and slide the shelf with the stone out as far as it will go without danger of toppling. Approach with your sheet of baguettes. Carefully slide the parchment and baguettes from the cookie sheet onto the stone. Slide in rack and close oven.
Turn down to 425 F.
Open oven door and toss in a few ice cubes on to the oven floor. (Little shot o' steam) After 10 minutes, open oven and slip out the parchment, leaving the bread behind on the tile, of course. You may have to rearrange the bread slightly, possibly scalding your fingers. (You may have already done this sliding the parchment and breads onto the stone. I certainly have.) Cook about 25 minutes altogether, but don't take it out until it is dark brown,please. It is very difficult to overcook this type of bread. Cool on rack.
Consume after cooling. Do wait until it cools completely. Hard, but necessary.
I am very contented when I have a nice hunk of this with my soup and/or cheese. Nothing against country style round loaves, which I love. When I was in Paris for a few days a couple of years ago, I failed to convince my friend that a side trip to the Poilane boulangerie was an urgent matter, and never got to try any of that fabled bread. If I get another chance, I will be more independent, and head for the bread with single-minded resolve.
*Note:A reader has pointed out that the original recipe calls for 1 1/8 tsp salt. I don't have the book, but he is no doubt right. The 1/8 tsp was the way I copied it a long time ago-it's how I make it and always have. He thought my way was bland though, so you might prefer it with the original measurement.