Saturday, December 12, 2009
When I was trying to think of a new bread to make this weekend, it occurred to me that I hadn't made a baguette in a very long time. I found this recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and it looked like I'd be able to bake it on Saturday while I was writing a brief. It worked out very well--I sat at the counter and typed away on my laptop (about what the burglary statute means by a "person in lawful possession") while occasionally checking the progress of this slow-rising dough.
All I had to do on Friday was mix up the poolish until it started its bubbling action, and then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
I made a whole recipe of poolish, and didn't realize until Saturday that I only needed a cup of it. The poolish was so lively and gluteny that I couldn't bear to throw it away, so I googled "freezing poolish." According to a source, whether reliable or unreliable I have yet to find out, poolish can be frozen for up to three months and used successfully if it's brought back to room temperature. We'll see.
The real fun started when I tried to approximate something called "clear flour." Reinhart says that you get this by sifting whole wheat flour and leaving behind the bran. He also says, not particularly helpfully, that most home sifters don't have fine enough holes to separate the flour from the bran. (Is this anything like separating the wheat from the chaff?) If there is not a sizeable amount of bran left behind in the sifter, he says, you'll know it's not working.
I sifted out only two pieces of bran from over a cup of flour, so I could see that this wasn't going to work. I searched my kitchen for something with finer mesh than a sifter, and came up with an ancient tea caddy. This actually worked pretty well.
However, since I could sift only about a tablespoon at a time, I got tired of it before I sifted through the entire 8 ounces, so I filled in with extra bread flour. (This is what Reinhart suggests if you can't sift away the bran, so I felt I had permission to do it that way). I did get a nice mountain of very finely sifted flour.
The dough came together nicely, and went into a bowl for a two-hour rise.
It looks a little like an angry mask, doesn't it? But after the first rising, and a little hand-kneading, it loses its angry appearance and just looks like bread dough.
Another few hours, and the dough is ready to divide and shape.
The dough scraper is one of those little gadgets that, once you have it, you don't see how you ever did without it.
The dough almost shaped itself into three baguettes.
I loved the way these baguettes looked when they came out of the oven--just the right deep brown color, and the kitchen smelled exactly the way your house is supposed to smell if you're trying to sell your house: warm, homey, yeasty, delicious.
Because it looked so beautiful, it was a bit of a letdown to taste the bread. It was good. It had a very nice wheaty flavor, but it didn't have the open, chewy texture that I was hoping for.
It wasn't bad at all, but I would have to say that it wasn't worth the time spent sifting flour through a tea caddy. I'd like to try something made with authentic "clear flour" sometime to see what this bread is supposed to taste like. Meanwhile, I'll look for other recipes to use up my frozen poolish, and hope I remember to do it sometime in the next three months.
--adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
1 cup (7 ounces) poolish*
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, sifted (or use all bread flour except for about 2 tablespoons of unsifted whole wheat flour)
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. (.37 ounce) salt
3/4 tsp. (.08 ounce) instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups (9 to 10 ounces) water
1. Stir together the flours, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the poolish pieces and the water, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. Add more water or flour as needed, to create a dough that is soft but not sticky.
2. Knead on medium speed with dough hook about six minutes, until dough is soft and pliable. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, coating all over with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Let rise about 2 hours, or until dough is nearly doubled in size. Remove dough from bowl and knead about a minute. Return to bowl and cover again.
4. Let rise another 2 hours until dough is doubled in size.
5. Divide dough in 3 pieces on a floured counter. Shape into baguettes. Putting them in a three-baguette pan works perfectly. Let rise another hour.
6. Preheat oven to 500. Place baking stone on lower third of oven. Slash baguettes with knife or razor blade, and put in oven. Create steam in oven by putting either about 1/2 cup ice cubes or 1 cup hot water in preheated pan on rack below the rack with the baking stone.
7. Spray additional water twice on oven walls at 30-second intervals, if desired, and then lower heat to 450. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate pan, and bake for another 8 to 12 minutes, until bread is golden brown.
8. Remove bread from oven and let cool on a rack.
*Poolish (Makes about 23 ounces)
Stir together 2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour, 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water, and 1/4 tsp. instant yeast. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temp. for 3 to 4 hours, or until bubbly and foamy. Refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigerator an hour or two before using.