Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Baguettes

I will admit that there are times when I do feel ridiculously pleased with the results of my various experiments in the kitchen. I am not professionally trained and have never been on any cookery courses (other than the bread making course that I recently went on); I am merely an enthusiastic amateur who loves eating and cooking tasty and interesting food to share with those that I love. That’s it at its simplest. Furthermore, I love writing and sharing my enthusiasm for food, so it seems natural that I would do that here, on this blog.
 
My love of cookery stems from my love of eating and a desire to experience new tastes and flavours and seeing how I can use and adapt these to create the types of dishes that I crave and want to eat.
 
Initially when I started this blog, I was going to write about ALL the different things that I had been trying to cook for myself, family and friends, even some of the less-than-successful recipes, but I soon realised that this was not what I wanted my blog to be about. We all lead such busy lives and are bombarded, on a daily basis, with so much information from so many sources, that the last thing we want to do is trawl through a recipe which at the end of, the writer declares to be unsuccessful. I think that it is far more useful to test, tweak, and perfect the recipes in my own kitchen before publishing them for others to (hopefully) enjoy trying out! I always try to include any variations and significant issues that I have come across, hoping that by sharing my experiences, others will feel more confident in trying out the recipes.
 
Recently, many of the recipes that I have been cooking and working on have been quite technical and a little complicated. The challenge has been to simplify these without sacrificing taste or quality, so that they can be attempted in a normal home kitchen like mine. After trying out new ingredients or new processes, there is something so reassuring about going back to basics and doing a bit of bread making. Although I love challenging myself in the culinary sense, I also like to return to the basics…and really, there is nothing more basic than bread!
 
The bread making course that I attended in the Firehouse Bakery in Delgany, County Wicklow a couple of months ago really awakened something in me and I have been baking my own bread with increased confidence since then, adapting basic recipes to include other ingredients along the way. I love feeling the changes in the bread dough as you knead it and seeing it spring to life as the yeast gets to work and the dough rises as it proves. The smell of freshly baked bread is one of the most amazing things and its aroma acts like a magnet drawing others into the kitchen in pursuit of some to eat whilst it is still warm.
 
I have wanted to make my own baguettes for ages, so finally decided to give it a go and mightily pleased I was with the results! The recipe that I used is one by Patrick Ryan of the Firehouse Bakery, with a couple of slight changes that I have made. The recipe that I used was originally published in Food & Wine Magazine… an Irish magazine published monthly and can be accessed here.
 
The recipe needs to be started the night before so that the poolish has time to develop. Patrick states that this recipe creates 6 baguettes, but I divided the dough into 8 rather than 6 baguettes and preferred the slightly thinner results.
 

Ingredients:

Poolish:
250g strong white bread flour
250ml water
3g fresh yeast
Dough:
675g strong white bread flour
10g fine sea salt
5g fresh yeast
500g poolish
330ml water
 

Method:

Poolish:
1. Place all the ingredients in a clean medium sized mixing bowl and mix together thoroughly with a wooden spoon to create a very wet and sticky dough. Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave to sit at room temperature overnight.
Dough:
2. Place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and combine together using your hands. Crumble the yeast into the flour and mix through with your hands until well distributed.
3. Add the poolish which should be very aerated and risen after its night’s resting and add the water. Mix everything together with your hands to create a soft dough.
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean work-surface and knead for 12-15 minutes until smooth and silky. As usual resist the urge to flour the work-surface – as you continue kneading the dough, it will stop sticking to the surface.
5. Place the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling-film and set aside to prove for 60-90 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.
6. Turn the dough out on to a clean work-surface and knock back. Divide into 8 equal portions (I use my electronic scales to measure exactly, though you can do it by eye).
Shaping the dough:
7. Firstly shape each portion of dough into a ball and then working one ball at a time and flatten out into a rectangle (approximately 20cms x 15cms) with one of the long sides facing you. Take the edge closest to you start rolling up into a tight sausage like shape about 15cms long, crimping the edges with your fingers along the seam at intervals as you roll.
8. Using the palm of your hands and starting in the centre roll the dough out working your hands from the centre to the outside edges until doubled in length and each roll has pointy tips.
9. Arrange the formed baguettes on a clean tea-towel, heavily dusted with flour drawing the tea-towel up to separate each baguette as they are placed side by side. Love the baguettes to prove for 45 minutes until well risen.
To finish:
10. Preheat oven to its highest setting and lightly flour two large baking trays. Place an empty roasting dish on the bottom of your oven and allow to heat up along with the oven.
11. Carefully roll each baguette onto the prepared baking trays (I put 4 on each) and slash each baguette 3 or 4 times diagonally along its length with a blade or sharp knife.
12. Throw some ice cubes into the roasting dish at the bottom of the oven and place the baguettes in the oven for 20-25 minutes until deep golden brown and cooked all the way through.

Makes 8.