Having people gather in my home (and by home, I mean, right in my kitchen) to eat and drink and talk and laugh is one of my favorite things. And I like to do the cooking, coming up with a special menu for each occasion. Why not do the same for new neighbors? What better way to say “welcome, I love small batch goodness and I live next door” than with a homemade treat? -Maggie
Isn’t it just like Maggie to think up something as simple, but incredibly delicious, as homemade, crusty bread as a housewarming gift for a new neighbor? Genius idea! Why hadn’t I thought of that already? I mean, I have the new baby dinner down pat. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to be a new neighbor and receive a welcoming of fresh baked bread? Well, I know I want to move next door to Maggie if this is how she welcomes new families to the neighborhood.
When thinking about putting Maggie’s bread baking idea into action, I tossed around a few ideas for fresh baked bread, then settled on our favorite: the traditional French baguette. This is the loaf of bread that you will always find in our house. It goes well with everything from breakfast to a spaghetti dinner. And, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry already. It’s been quite some time since I had a chance to make this recipe, and after making it, I decided it needs to be a regular ritual in our house.
I have tried many different recipes for baguettes, from time consuming recipes to quick and easy. I always come back to the one I found on Savuer.com, the four hour baguette. Traditionally, the recipe is done entirely by hand, but I use my trusty mixer to speed along the process. Actually, I use it because I am not that great at kneading.
What I love about this recipe is that the crumb comes out perfect every time. And, to create the steam, which helps the loaves rise fully and to produce a nice crust, you just use a cast-iron skillet and some ice. Another genius idea.
The only thing left to make this the perfect housewarming gift? Homemade butter!
Four Hour Baguette
Adapted from Saveur.com
- 1 1/2 cups tap water, heated to 115
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 1/2 cups ap flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- canola oil for greasing bowl
- 1 cup ice cubes
- Whisk together the water, sugar and yeast in a bowl; let sit in a warm space until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.
- Warm the oven to 175 degrees. Turn off the heat and slightly jar the door.
- Put the flour in the mixing bowl that came with your mixer. Add the water/yeast mixture, using a dough hook, gently mix just until the flour is absorbed into the water, about 30 seconds.
- Let the dough sit to allow the flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add the salt. According to your mixers directions for using a dough hook, mix the dough until smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in a pre-warmed oven (DO NOT KEEP THE HEAT ON).
- Let the dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 – 60 minutes.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8” x 6” rectangle.
- Fold the 8” sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center. Return the dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with the plastic, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Remove the dough from the oven. Place a cast iron skillet on the bottom rack of the oven; position another rack above the skillet.
- Heat the oven to 475 degrees.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a 10” rope.
- Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet. Place the ropes, evenly spaced on the paper. Lift the paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let sit until doubled in size, about 50 minutes.
- Uncover; remove towels, and lightly flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor or paring knife, slash the top of each baguette at a 30-degree angle in three spots.
- Place ice cubes in the skillet. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, about 30 minutes; slightly cool before serving.
Photos styled and taken by Denise Woodward.
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