We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

French Bread - Baguettes and Filled Loaves

by Michelle

"I feel like a Tom Robbins book: "...and in her 50th year she fell in love with a KitchenAid mixer, a vintage Wolf Range, and renewed her commitment to a bubbling batch of 13 year old sourdough starter!"" — Juliette

   What I have learned about baking bread after nearly twenty-five years of practicing the art can be summed up in one word: relax - not everything has to be so precise. Yes, baking is a science, but with bread there is some leeway. As a rule, I forgo altering ratios of ingredients for cakes and cookies, but I have discovered that the process for baking bread is quite forgiving as long as I do not error in adding too much flour. There is an oft repeated adage that fish and guests stink after three days. Not so with bread dough. The amiable, go-with-the-flow dough will accomodate you and your schedule, provided there is room in your refrigerator to keep it as a contented guest for up to a week, until you are ready to shape and bake loaves.

   You might say, well that's all great, but I can buy tasty artisinal loaves at my local bakery. Why would I want to make bread at home? To that question I would respond, I buy a lot of bread from my friendly, local bakery, too. However, after long hours sitting in front of my laptop, I like to participate in an activity that is fun, engages the senses, and yields amazing results. Baking bread is a creative endeavor open to a variety of sweet and savory interpretations. I also like the fact that I can complete other tasks around the house while the dough is resting and rising. It's a multi-taskers dream come true.
    My sister, Linda made a living as a baker for many years. My sister, Juliette currently makes her living as a baker of artisinal breads and pizzas. I make bread because I find it relaxing and for the pride I feel when I see the beautiful loaves cooling on the kitchen table. I also appreciate that my baking brings joy to my friends and family.
   If you were to ask my sisters and me what is alive and happy in our refrigerators, we would all three shout, "Sourdough!" Juliette does not add any extra yeast to her breads (by the way, all the gorgeous loaves are Juliette's in this post), using the natural leavening in the sourdough as the basis for her breads and pizza dough. Sourdough is low glycemic index because the fermentation process rids the flour of a lot of starch and sugar - basically the yeast eats it. It is also acknowledged that sourdough is easier to digest for people with wheat issues because the fermentation process breaks down the various components of the grain. Commercial yeast was invented simply because it is FASTER, and faster bread is just not as good because there is not enough time for flavor development.

   Over the years, the three of us have continually shared our baking knowledge to help build each other's skills, such as this excerpt from an e-mail that Linda and I received from Juliette, "I am finally getting the hang of the baguettes. The technique that is finally working for me is to flatten the dough out by pressing firmly with my hands into a rectangle. Fold the short ends in like a letter. Pinch the seam, cover, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Press it out again but not much and gently, and repeat the folding. Seal the seam. At this point you will have a fat little blob of dough. Working from the center and out, with the seam down, extend the dough until it is the length you want. You may have to let the dough rest again during this process for the gluten to relax. When the cylinder of dough is even and smooth place it in the baguette pan, and tuck the ends under. Let rise until almost double. Fifteen minutes or so before baking remove the protective cover off the loaves and let them dry out just a bit. A drier surface makes the slashing easier."

   A big step forward in making bread, that we wrote about in the pizza dough recipe, is incorporating resting periods called autolyse into the dough making process. The resting periods allow for the flour to absorb the water. The goal is to make a sticky dough that has developed long strands of gluten. After the dough has risen, it is more pliable and easy to shape. For such little effort, autolyse yields great flavor and texture.
    In the recipe below, we provide directions on how to bake a great loaf (with added yeast) from beginning to end in one session. If you want to make the dough, bake later in the week for convenience, and to build more complex flavor, here's how Juliette does it, "After you have finished the dough, remove the hook and let it rest in the mixer bowl for 15 minutes. Then divide the dough - in half for stuffed loaves or into four even pieces for baguettes. Place each in lightly oiled bowls or disposable plastic containers (that are large enough for the dough to expand). Let sit at room temp for fifteen minutes then put in the fridge for 24 hours (or longer; up to a week). When you pull the dough balls out of the fridge you can start shaping (and filling) them immediately. You can leave the loaves to proof until doubled. Make sure your loaves are slashed well to accommodate the "oven spring" when doing a "cold" bake. To make the crust slash easier let the loaves sit without covering until the surface starts to dry out a bit. Make sure you get a lot of water into the oven for the first 15 minutes."

   One of my favorite stuffed loaves is a garlic cheese filling. Juliette adores loaves stuffed with dried cherries, walnuts and fresh lemon peel. If you like spicey, her loaves filled with thinly sliced fresh jalapenos, roasted red peppers and crumbly Mexican cheese are fantastic. My daughter's favorite is a baguette flavored with fresh rosemary and olive oil mixed into the dough. Homemade or store bought tapenade and pesto make excellent fillings too. The possibilities are truly endless.
   Stuffed loaves are terrific served as is or embelished with butter. Plain baguettes can be accompanied simply with sweet or salted butter. A special compound butter or flavored dip is a nice touch. In lieu of butter, the bread also tastes great dipped in a combination of fruity olive oil adorned with a hefty splash of aged  balsamic vinegar and perhaps a grind or two of black pepper.

French Bread - Baguettes and Filled Loaves
   This is a versatile bread to serve with salads, soups, pasta or alongside appetizers. The "filled" versions always draw exclamations from guests. Leftover baguettes can be sliced thinly, brushed on both sides with olive oil, sprinkled with parmesan and baked on a sheet in a 400°F oven until crispy, about 15 minutes. The croutons make lovely crackers for a cheese and dip tray or floated on a bowl of soup or served alongside a green leaf salad. Extra loaves freeze well. Wrap cooled loaves in foil and freeze. Defrost at room temperature. To reheat, crisp the loaves in a 350°F oven for about 8 minutes.
   The original recipe was developed by Beth Hensperger, baker extraordinaire, published author of more than 20 cookbooks and columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Although Linda changed the process along the way, the addition of semolina is unique to Beth's French Bread recipe. The Garlic Cheese filling is from Abby Mandel's Cuisinart Classroom cookbook. I've opened the cookbook so often that pages are falling loose from the spine. Abby passed away in 2008 and thankfully her legacy lives on in her cookbooks and for the many people who enjoy shopping at the Green City Market in Chicago, one of the best farmer's markets in the nation that Abby founded.
   Even though we recommend high-gluten bread flour, the bread can be successfully made with all-purpose flour. For a slightly nutty-flavored bread, you can exchange a cup of whole wheat flour for one cup white flour.

For the Dough, First Autolyse:
2 cups warm water about 110°F
1 cup high-gluten bread flour (King Arthur recommended)
1-1/2 cups semolina flour
Second Autolyse:
1/2 cup warm water about 110°F
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
a pinch sugar, honey or agave syrup
1 cup high-gluten bread flour (King Arthur recommended)
Final Mix:
1 cup high-gluten bread flour (King Arthur recommended), plus about one cup more, divided and used as needed
1 Tbsp sea salt
extra-virgin olive oil for bowl to rise dough
semolina flour for dusting pans
For the Garlic Cheese Filling:
(for one large baguette - double recipe, if desired):

1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 large shallot, peeled
3 ounces imported Parmesan cheese, at room temperature
3 ounces mozzarella or Italian fontina cheese, chilled
1/4 cup parsley leaves, packed
1 large egg
For the Glaze:
1 large egg white whisked with 1 tablespoon water for glaze

Optional Special Equipment:
A stand mixer, such as a KitchenAid with a paddle attachment
Impeccably clean spray bottle filled with water
Dough knife
Food Processor
Pastry brush
Long, offset, icing spatula (typically used to lift and decorate cakes)
Instant read thermometer

1. Mixing the Dough: In a large bowl using a whisk or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 2 cups warm water, 1 cup bread flour, and 1-1/2 cups semolina flour. Blend in mixer on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Let rest in mixer bowl for 30 minutes (this resting period is called autolyse). If you live in a dry climate, cover the bowl with a damp dish towel or saran wrap.

2. After 20 minutes, proof the yeast: In a small bowl or in a liquid measuring cup, pour in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast and the pinch of sugar, honey or agave over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add activated yeast to mixer bowl; fully incorporate on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup flour and blend for 2 minutes on medium speed. Let rest for 30 minutes (this is the second and final autolyse).
3. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup flour and 1 tablespoon salt; add to mixer bowl. Beat 2-3 minutes to make a shaggy dough. Add flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, approximately 2 to 4 tablespoons. Dough should be sticky, but pull away from the sides.
4. Kneading: Liberally flour kneading surface with 3/4 cup flour. Push some of the flour to the side, to use as needed. With floured hands, turn dough out on the floured surface and knead for a few minutes, add in reserved flour, as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface and continuing to knead until the dough holds it shape, and is still tacky, about 5 minutes.
5. First and Second Rises: Place the dough in an oiled deep container and flip, so the surface of the dough is completely covered lightly in oil. Cover the bowl with lid or plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. Do not rush. Gently deflate the dough and knead about 6 or 8 times to release the trapped gasses. Cover and let rise again until almost double in bulk, about 60 minutes. This second rise is optional, but it makes for a more developed flavor and slightly better texture.

6. For Garlic Cheese Bread, prepare the filling: In a food processor, using the metal blade, with the machine running, mince the garlic and shallot by dropping them through the feed tube. Leave in the work bowl. Remove the metal blade and insert shredding disc: shred the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, using light pressure. Leave the cheese in the work bowl. Remove shredding disc and reinsert metal blade. Put the parsley in the work bowl and mince it by turning the machine on and off about 8 times. Add the egg and process the mixture for 5 seconds. Transfer mixture to covered container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Double recipe if needed for more than one large filled loaf.

7. Shaping and Final Rise: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface to deflate. Grease or parchment-line the 2 baking sheets or baguette pans and dust with semolina flour. Without working the dough further, divide it into 2 or 4 even portions (I usually just divide in 2 and make 2 large loaves - one filled and the other plain. Flatten each into a thin rectangle with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin. If the dough resists, let sit for 5 minutes before continuing. Leave plain or spoon the cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border on all sides. Pat the cheese mixture into the dough. Starting at the long end, roll each up, using your thumbs to help roll tightly, pinching the seam, as you roll. On both ends, tuck in the inner circles, and pinch the outside edge to tightly seal. You should not see the filling. The tight cylinder should be slightly shorter than your baking sheet or pan. Roll lightly, back and forth and gently transfer, seam side down, to the prepared pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is fully double in bulk, about 1 hour.
8. Baking Off and Cooling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F. Or, if using a baking stone or tiles, preheat the oven for one hour. Remove the saran wrap and let the loaves dry out a little bit while the oven is preheating.
   If using, make an egg wash by combine one egg white with a tablespoon of water and mix vigorously with a fork to combine. Set aside.
   A few minutes before transferring the loaves to the oven, with a serrated knife or dough knife dipped in water, slash each loaf across the top 3 or 4 times on the diagonal, no more than 1/4 inch deep. Continue to dip blade in water in between cuts, as needed to prevent sticking. Just before placing the loaves in the oven, mist the walls a few times with water from a clean spray pump bottle to add moisture to the dry heat. Or, throw a cupful of water on the floor of the oven - BE CAREFUL - the steam can easily burn your hand if you remove your hand slowly. Close the oven door quickly to trap the steam.
   Place the pans on the lowest rack of the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Three times, at 5 minute intervals (after placing the loaves in the oven), open the oven door and spray the loaves quickly to create steam, taking care to protect your hand from burning (do not pull the rack out of the oven). Again, shut the oven door immediately to trap the steam.
   After 20 minutes (stuffed loaves 25 minutes), remove the pans from the oven, remove the bread from the pans, using a long off-set spatula, if necessary, to detach loaf from pan. At this point, you can brush the loaves with the egg wash for a shiny presentation. Return the loaves to the oven and place directly on the rack or tiles. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger, or an instant read thermometer inserted into the underside of the loaves registers 200°F. Remove the loaves to a cooling rack. Loaves are best slightly warm or at room temperature. Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 baguettes

"There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum." ~ Tom Robbins


  1. Have you used the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day? If so, how do you like it? I've thought about getting it to help expand my sourdough baking. I don't know if the recipes themselves are sourdough based, but the method would still be the same, I assume.

    Since being able to eat gluten again, I'm re-discovering the joys of baking. I was good at gluten free baking, but it's not the same as baking with wheat flour, which is so much more rewarding to me.

    Your breads look beautiful.

  2. Hi Daisy... I'm not familiar with the book you mentioned. The baking book that I'm currently infatuated with is "Tartine Bakery". One of these days I need to actually visit the bakery located in the Mission Disctrict of San Francisco. I completely stopped eating bread for seven months. Now, I've asked Juliette to hook me up with sourdough. I've read in several places that long fermentation of sourdough essentially yields a gluten-free bread. I've decided to begin making my own bread again using extended fermentation methods like my sister Juliette uses to make her artisinal breads. I'm looking forward to eating bruschetta once again.

  3. I've heard that about gluten and sourdough as well. If I remember correctly, a 24 hour ferment is necessary for this, but it is more challenging to turn out baked goods this way. I believe that fermenting the dough this long creates a stickier, heavier dough because all of the protein has been "eaten" up.

    I hope you get good results. I know I have enjoyed eating bread again. I would love for you to share your results.

  4. Here's the link to the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2010/02/09/back-to-basics-tips-and-techniques-to-create-a-great-loaf-in-5-minutes-a-day
    I've used the basic recipe, playing with different flours and seeds with great success, and I highly recommend it!


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