RVA Foodie’s mother is here visiting her new grandchild and Mr Foodie and I started discussing the possibility of getting together during her visit. Initially we discussed going to brunch, possibly Rowlands, but M reminded us that this Sunday was to be Mother’s Day – quite possibly the worst day of the year to do brunch. Instead it was decided that we would fire up my new grill and cook at home on Saturday. This actually worked well for me as I had already been planning an experiment for that night.
I had been eyeing our new oven and had been considering the possibilities beyond simple cooking. Never had I actually baked bread and, to be honest, hadn’t baked anything for a couple of decades. The target choice was easy, my favourite crusty concoction – Baguettes. How hard could it be? Well, after a bit of research it turned out to involve a few more steps than everyday cooking and while the ingredients seemed to require exact precision the baking was not so precise.
Here’s the standard recipe I culled from a number of sources to create my own base. As we were having guests I doubled the recipe.
4 Cups Unbleached AP White Flour (+1/2 cup for working)
1 Package Dry Active Yeast
2 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1 1/2 Cups Cool Water
4 Teaspoons Vital Gluten
1-2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
a) Pour water (tap cool not refrigerated) in large glass mixing bowl. Add yeast and gluten, mix and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
b) Add 2 cups of the flour and mix thoroughly. Add remaining flour and combine.
c) On a clean dry surface sprinkle some of the working flour and knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. Add working flour as needed to achieve consistent moisture level throughout. Final result should be a large ball.
d) Coat large glass bowl with Canola Oil. Add the ball of dough and roll to coat. Cover with plastic and place in refrigerator for 14-18 hours. Dough may need to be punched down every now and then.
e) Remove bowl from refrigerator about an hour before you are going to start working with it to allow to come to room temperature.
f) Preheat oven to 475-500. You kind of need to now how your oven works to figure out the best cooking temp for you. Place large dutch oven filled with water on the lowest level of the oven.
g) Split dough into loaf size portions. I wasn’t sure how much the everything would grow in the oven so I split my doubled recipe into 4 portions. I ended up with something closer to a demi then a baguette.
h) Knead your dough out on a floured surface into the desired shape and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
i) Cover baking sheet with parchment paper and place loaves on top. With a sharp knife or razor slice 3 or four slices into the dough. Brush top of loaf with water.
j) Bake for 25-30 minutes. Bread crust should sound hollow when knocked.
k) Place on cooling rack.
I baked the loaves in two groups. The first time I the oven was set at 475 and on the convection setting. It baked a little to quickly with the convection and threatened to burn in a couple of spots. The next go I set the oven to normal bake and the temp at 475. This time it seemed to be cooking too slowly so, about 10 minutes in, I upped the temperature to 490 and added 2 minutes to the cooking time. We sampled both loaves at the same time and, while there was no major difference between the two, the second set of loaves was more visually appealing.
The verdict? Not bad for a first attempt. The bread was very dense and heavy but in a really good way. For a variety of reasons I had cut the refrigerated rising time down to 9 hours which hadn’t given enough time for the little yeasties to burp enough into the dough. The Foodies really seemed to enjoy it. I had laid out both a dipping oil and Lurpak butter from Denmark for the bread and surprisingly the butter was the clear favourite. Actually, the Lurpak was such a hit they wanted to know where to get it (Fresh Market).
The rest of the dinner went well, not least of which was due to both Finn and Jasper sleeping through the entire evening. Mr Foodie was relegated to eating more of the bread for the appetizer as I did a very simple flat-iron steak on the grill, sliced it thin and served with horseradish cream. For entrees we had Haibut seared on the grill and sauteed zucchini from my nifty new mesh pan on the grill.
Desert brought an overload of joy. M had made a strawberry and Frangelico trifle, the Foodies brought fresh strawberries from their garden, and there was something else. I had read on Veron’s blog that the Foodies had been by her stall at the Farmer’s Market this morning. Would we be trying her macarons for the first time? Yes, we were. I am at a loss as to describe how good these were. I would say my favourite was the vanilla creme due to it’s amazing taste and simplicity but the salted caramel was a joy in it’s complexity. Either way both went well with my Grand Marnier.
Wrapping up the evening there was and abundance of food left over (hopefully from there being too much and not a reflection on the cook). We put together a take away bag for the Foodies. I was a little hesitant to add some of the sliced bread that had been sitting out for 4 hours for fear of it having gone stale. I touch a piece and found it to be perfectly fresh. Guess home baked fares a bit better than store bought. The two remaining loaves were cut the next day and tasted just as fresh as the day before even though they hadn’t been wrapped. With the cost of bread these days I may have to try baking at home a bit more.