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The 4-Hour Baguette

Don't let that title fool you, it's actually 3 baguettes you'll get to indulge in after four short hours.

I don’t know what came over me last weekend, but I was full of energy and optimism so I channeled it into finally tackling one of my many kitchen goals. Perhaps it was the promise of a process that only takes 4 hours and intermittent attention. Or perhaps it was the quote "baking bread is more wait than work". Either way, it was happening.

Making baguettes really is quite simple and really does leave you with a lot of time to get other things done. While I was in the process of making 6 baguettes (yes I made two separate batches, but more on that later) I managed to sweep and wash all my floors, do a few loads of laundry, clean the communal front hall (including outdoor mat beating), keep the kitchen tidy, and host some neighbours so that they could share in my success.

One of my favourite things about baking is that it's essentially science. Science makes sense and is often dictated by a number of rules. I know quite a few people who don't revel in the fact that baking appears to have little to no room for error, but I just love that when you understand the boundaries of what you're working with, you're left with loads of possibility.

Take yeast for example, yeast has a “best before” date, not a “use by” date or an “expiration” date, so when I realized that my yeast was best before quite some time ago I didn't get too fussed; it still smelled fine and looked normal! There is a test you can do with yeast to see if it's still going to work and if you find it's less effective than it should be, simply add a bit more!

In the spirit of experimentation I made two batches of baguette. One with old yeast that I hand kneaded and one with fresher yeast that I let my stand mixer knead; they both had their pluses and minuses. I found that the fresher yeast made a less dense, nicer loaf. This could have had something to do with the yeast or the kneading, or both! I'm really not sure. The older yeast produced a nicer looking baguette, which could have been due to the yeast, the knead method, or the fact that I didn't let it rise for nearly as long before popping into the over. I might never know, but I think I learned a few things along the way, so I thought I might share them with you:

  • I love how amazing my house smells when I'm baking bread.

  • Yeast that is past its best before date still works, test out its potency and then use more if necessary.

  • Kneading dough by hand really is therapeutic but a stand mixer does a better job with significantly less effort.

  • The recipe I followed said to leave the shaped baguettes to double while you heat up the oven, but those two things don't happen at the same rate, you either let the dough rise while the oven heats and then bake them, or you let the dough double in size (which can take a long time depending on a number of factors, like how warm your kitchen is, etc), I believe the former produces a nicer looking crust.

Instead of copy and pasting the recipe I think you should just click this link and head on over to Food 52 to follow their recipe. It includes great pictures and excellent instructions instructions.

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