Saturday, October 22, 2016

Barking About Baguettes

Barking About Baguettes.....I am neither "barking" (ie, out of my mind) nor "barking" (ie, like a dog; I'm a cat person, after all) but it just sounded kinda nicely alliterative. 

What I really want to say is that I've been following through on my journey in learning how to make baguettes.  (See this post for how I came up with the notion and this post for my first attempt.)  The results have been good but I've also found that it's necessary to move away from the original instructions.  That's when you're really cooking, so to speak:  when you feel confident enough to make something your own.  And I feel fairly happy about my baguettes. 

The recipe (I've shared before but here's the link again--it's a great recipe with excellent instructions) makes three loaves; I am one person.  Although I've heard the old tale about French people each eating a baguette a day, I personally can't.  It just isn't possible to use up that much bread while it is fresh.....unless I were to go on a bread-only diet and that seems like a poor idea  in many ways.

Baguettes are fantastically crispy and wonderful hot when they are just out of the oven.   I initially tried storing them in a cotton fabric bag that allowed free flow of air to keep them crispy but two days later the bread turned to stone.  It was so hard that it couldn't even be made into crumbs--believe me, this nearly gave my food processor a nervous breakdown.  Although I dislike using a lot of plastic wrap and foil (wasteful!), I tried both.  And both kept the bread fresh enough but softened its crispy crust.  The bread was still very good but a little disappointing.  I discovered, though, that spritzing the bread with a bit of water and popping it back into the oven for a few minutes would revive the crust. 

I thought about halving the recipe to make just two loaves so that I could use it up without waste while it was still crispy.  However, time expenditure is the biggest concern with this recipe.  Count on it:  making baguettes takes 19+ hours, not including clean up (14 hours for starter, 3 hours rising in the bowl, 15 minutes resting, 1 1/2 hours rising in the pans, 1/2 hour baking).  If you want baguettes at 12 noon on Saturday, you start working at 4:30 PM on Friday.  No matter what else you change, the timing won't so there's no point in reducing the amount of product.  If you want baguettes, you've gotta be willing to commit.

Another thing that bothered me was that I have two baguette pans and each holds two loaves but there I was splitting the dough into threes just the way the recipe said to do.  Didn't make sense to me at all.  So I split the dough into four portions and made each loaf a little shorter.  Worked fine, aesthetically and for other purposes as well.

Since I was also intrigued with the idea of stuffed baguettes (suggested as an option in the recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour site), I tried that, too.  I'm vegetarian so I did cheese only, and the results were pretty good (although my Swiss cheese oozed out a lot; maybe I added too much cheese, maybe I shouldn't have slashed those little loaves).  I'm planning to do this again but with a combo of cheese and veggies and no slashing--gonna be interesting. 

One important factor in stuffing the baguettes was that the recipe said that instead of three loaves, the stuffed version should be split into six.  The notion of decreasing the size of the loaves gave me another idea:  I could make pistolettes instead of baguettes.  Pistolettes are a regional specialty and living, as I do, not so very far from New Orleans, it's a food item that I'm familiar with--essentially it's a half-size baguette (although the term pistolette also refers to the type of sandwich that is made from it). 

Don't know why I didn't think of this sooner!  Next time I make baguettes (and I've been doing so about once a week while I'm working on improving my skill), using that same King Arthur recipe, I will try shaping the dough into eight pistolettes instead of four baguettes.  This will be easier for me to store and they should be extra-nice when popped into the oven to re-crisp.  While I might not be able to eat a baguette every day, I certainly could easily finish a pistolette.  I'm looking forward my next baguette/pistolette adventure.

Life is good.
It's full of great ideas.

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