Homemade French Baguettes

For almost two years, I have been making homemade bread using a breadmaker.  You see, I turned my husband into a bread snob, buying bread from bakeries often enough that eventually he wouldn’t eat the bread-in-a-bag that you buy in the bread aisle.  Did you know that a bakery loaf costs between $2.50 and $4.00, but a comparable loaf of homemade bread (pretty much any variety) costs less than $1.oo?  I figure that if we make 1-2 loaves of bread per week, we have saved a few hundred making it ourselves….and considering that the breadmaker was a gift, there wasn’t even an investment to recoup….

I have made bread from scratch without one before, but the breadmaker just makes it so convenient….however, recently I have been thinking that my 9-year-old breadmaker may be in need of replacement.  Recently, I bought a new waffle iron.  The purchase of the waffle iron came with an offer for a rebate of a $25 Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift card.  I had originally planned to use my gift card toward the purchase of a new breadmaker….but I really want a pasta machine, so I decided to give making bread without a machine a go.  I figure by the time my current machine dies, I will have the technique downpat.  So, in preparation for the Cuban sandwiches I had planned for dinner tonight, I decided to make French baguettes from scratch using my Kitchenaid heavy-duty stand mixer.

The recipe for this bread came from the book Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman.  The book shares ratios of ingredients needed to make doughs for breads, cookies, cakes, pastries, and pastas.  The basic theory is that with the knowledge of a few basic ratios, you can make pretty much any dough-based item you could think of.

For French bread, the ratio is 20 ounces of flour, 12 ounces of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of yeast.

First, I weighed the flour using my kitchen scale.  There are 10 ounces of bread flour and 10 ounces of white whole wheat flour pictured here.  If you’ve never heard of white whole wheat flour, you need to try it!  It has just as much nutritional value as regular whole wheat flour, but is made from soft winter wheat and therefore produces bread much lighter in color and texture.  It can be substituted for up to 50% of the white flour in a recipe.  I pretty much use this in place of regular whole wheat flour these days.

Next, I added 12 ounces of water filtered through my Pur filter.

Then the salt and yeast (I use SAF yeast).

I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer to bring the ingredients together, then changed over to the dough hook and kneaded the dough for about 11 minutes.

I sprayed the bowl with nonstick cooking spray, then the dough went back into the bowl to rise until doubled in size….then into the refrigerator until later in the day.

After taking the dough out of the refrigerator, I stuck the bowl in the oven and let it warm up/rise for about 2 hours.  I forgot to take any more pictures until after I had shaped the loaves…so here’s a picture of the shaped baguettes, on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal to keep them from sticking.  I used a paring knife to make cuts in the top (this allows the gases that the yeast form to escape as the loaves rise).  I stuck these in the warm oven (I heated it at 350 degrees for about a minute) for 30 minutes.

After the final rise, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees.  I always bake my bread on a preheated baking stone.  Following Michael Ruhlman’s advice, I also placed a cast iron pan on the bottom rack to preheat.  When I put my loaves in the oven, I poured a cup of water into the cast iron pan-this creates steam to help create a crispy exterior.

The loaves baked for 20 minutes, then I took them out (using my ultra-cool Orka silicone oven mitts) and put them on the cooling rack to hang out until I was ready to cut them.

Shortly after these last two pictures were taken, one of these baguettes found a new life as 2 Cuban sandwiches….but that’s another post, to be shared soon!

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