No, I didn’t gain 20 lbs in the last three months. I don’t even think I accomplished that in my freshman year of college. To put 20 lbs into perspective, it’s probably larger than your giant bag of rice, even if you’re Asian; and it’s simply unliftable if you are a small Japanese girl like me. But 20 lbs the amount of flour I’ve used in the past three months, and most likely an underestimation. Other than baguettes, pizza crust, Japanese toast breads, muffins, cookies, and tart shells, have put a dent in my flour supply. I swear that winter came to California long before it ever started raining this past weekend, since a permanent white layer of flour-snow has been on my aprons, clothes, and countertops.
Well, until last night, I thought I was flour-crazed and incurable. Although I didn’t make bread posts last week and two weeks before that, I never stopped baking. I was adjusting the recipe and experimenting with different methods in every possible way, one small tweak at a time. Some days I stayed up until 2 a.m., and others, I had my alarm set for 3 a.m. or 5 a.m., so that I could preheat the oven and get my bake on before heading to work.
If you recall my last baguette post, I had problems with the baguette bottoms getting cracked and being a raw, uncooked-flour pale. I fixed those problems by firstly, kneading the dough more thoroughly, and secondly, stopped steaming directly under the bread. To compare the results, I baked a few by just spritzing the loaf with water.
Extra kneading didn’t necessarily mean that I had to pull any muscles. What I did was basically to let the dough do its job on its own (autolyse). I just kneaded more often rather than harder. So first, you mix the dough until it’s well mixed. At this stage, the dough is still pretty wet and sticky. Then about 30 minutes later, knead the dough just until it becomes smooth. Then let it rest for another 30 minutes and knead again. Repeat those steps two more times for a total of four, then cover the dough and let it rise. This method helped the gluten get so much stronger. This was actually fairly easy to do and it made sense.
My biggest challenge has been making those big grigne. I tried retarding the dough in the fridge overnight, which seemed to work better for making big air pockets inside the bread, but as far as making grigne, there wasn’t much difference with the one proofed at room temperature. So I figured that the problem was the oven or whatever was secretly happening inside the oven.
Last week, I borrowed an oven thermometer from Rachel. I dialed my oven temperature to 500F like usual and set the thermometer inside. After the oven was preheated, I curiously peaked inside the oven. As expected, the temperature was way off, but to the opposite degree. It read 600F! That actually made me happy. I have been thinking how my pizzas have been coming out better than ever since I moved into this new place, but never thought it was because of the older, yet more efficiently burning oven. Now my oven has a potential of baking breads like a real bakery. It’s just not as big and fancy. It also means that I have no excuse but to make real baguettes.
Over the weekend, I made sure to dial much lower than the actual numbers to bake my baguettes. I also tried cranking up to the max (600F) when I first put the loaf in the oven and then bringing it down to about 450F after a few minutes. That was last night around 12:50 a.m. Honestly, I was feeling so defeated in the past few weeks. I wasn’t making much progress, and my disappointing babies kept piling up. I finally started giving away free breads to my friends and coworkers to help me finish eating them. (Oh, don’t worry. I never gave bread that’s older than 24 hours.) They weren’t necessarily bad per se, I’m pretty sure more than edible, else I wouldn’t have given them away, but I couldn’t quite call them baguettes.
It was tough, but I’m glad I never gave up and Kitchen M didn’t turn into a bread only blog (because there so many good ones out there already)! Thank you everyone for encouraging me, leaving me comments & advice, and supported my baguette challenge for the past three months. I think I’m ready to take a break from baking breads for a while, perhaps, try something not so chewy and give my jaw a vacation.
Recipe of the Day - French Baguette
Ingredients: (makes 2 loafs)
320 g AP Flour or Hard Wheat Four
0.4 g instant yeast
2 g malt or sugar
5.5 g salt
70 g levain
208 g water
In a large bowl, mix everything until it forms wet, sticky dough. Let it rest for about 30 minutes. Using a spatula, knead the dough until it becomes smooth. Repeat these steps two more times for a total of four. Cover the bowl and let it rise at room temperature until it doubles in size.
Get the dough out from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half and shape the each dough by folding into thirds, lengthwise. Securely seal the dough by pressing the dough with your fingers and pinching together a seam.
Place each loaf in a baking cloth, cover, and let them rise for about an hour.
Place a small cast iron skillet inside the oven and preheat to 500F. Place each loaf on baking sheets and then on a baking pan. Score the loaves by using a lame or knife. Put the loaves in the oven, pour water into the hot cast iron, close the oven door immediately and bake for about 3-4 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 450F and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until bread is golden brown.