On my ten minute walk to the metro station, I pass four bakeries. Four bakeries that waft such delicious scents of bread, croissants, butter, and yeast into the streets. The smells are torturous, luring me in, asking me if I would like to stop awhile, maybe put up my feet and eat a little tart or two. I now understand how bakeries continue to keep business. They make an offer that takes (too much) willpower to refuse.
The bakery on the corner is host to every variety of bread imaginable. Sourdough, ciabatta, french loaves, rye, and baguettes. Ohh, baguettes. I love the shape of a baguette. I love the way they look popping out of paper grocery bags, or being carried down the street. I love the rich crunch they make when being torn apart. I love how effortlessly they soak up sauce from pasta dishes (or pass as a sword in a dire situation). I love that they are as much crust as actual bread. To me, the baguette is the embodiment of a perfect bread--of shape and texture and taste.
And so, growing tired of all this bakery window shopping, it was time to try my own hand at the baguette.
As a novice in all things bread making, I was a little nervous to take on this bread. It turns my fears were unwarranted. Bread is lot harder to mess up than one would think--it is forgiving. And so, with very little knowledge about what I was doing, my baguettes turned out just right. I ate nearly an entire baguette by myself, as soon as it came out of the oven. I don't recommend doing so (oof), but if the loaf just happens to, I don't know, mysteriously disappear, I won't judge.
Whole Wheat Baguettes
Adapted from Baking by James Peterson
Yields 2 17-inch baguettes
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups barely warm water
1 1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, making a well in the center. Fill the well with barely warm water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let set for 10 minutes.
Add the salt. Stir together the flour and yeast. When incorporated, knead the dough on a floured surface for 3 minutes. Cover the dough with a clean dish towel or bowl and let sit for 20 minutes. Knead the dough for 15 minutes or until the dough has a smooth consistency.
Let the dough proof in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap or a dish towel, for 2 to 5 hours or until the dough is twice (or even triple) its original volume. Alternatively, you could let the dough proof for 30 minutes at room temperature and allow the dough to rise in the refrigerator overnight.
When ready, punch the dough down and divide it into two equal pieces.
To form the baguettes, punch the dough in a straight line horizontally across the dough. Fold the top section over the bottom section and, again, punch the dough across the dough. Continue punching and folding until the dough is approximately 17 inches in length. Then, roll the dough back and forth over the table to eliminate lines. Fold over the ends and pinch them to create a uniform baguette.
Place the baguettes on an oiled cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a dishtowel. Allow the shaped baguettes to proof again for 1 to 3 hours. When doubled in size, they are ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Bake the baguettes for 18 to 20, or until the baguettes have a golden crust. Best served hot and fresh!
Now let's assume for a moment that you don't want to eat two entire baguettes in one sitting. problem solved! The baguettes can easily be reheated in the oven. Simply pop them in an oven at 425 degrees F for 3 to 4 minutes, and you will once again have a piping hot baguette to place on the table. Perfection.