It wants you to fear it. It is not to be feared. You must attack it, punch it down, and reshape it to your vision.
4 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached.
2 teaspoons salt, the table variety.
1 package active dry yeast.
1 1/2 cups warm water, not hot.
One KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook.
I pulled the 1 and 2 cup measures, 1 butter knife, 1 fork, and a teaspoon measure from their beds. It was early morning. Things were still at rest. I could not rest, I was to make bread.
The butter knife sliced at the flour to air it a bit before the cup measure measured. The back of the butter knife leveled things off, 1...2...3...4.
The salt was added and a fork was used to whisk things together. Then the yeast, another whisk. You don't want salt and yeast to come face to face. They need to dance around each other until the water is added, so I added it.
The Kitchenaid, which stood motionless, was set into motion. 12 minutes on low.
The dough, extracted from the hook and planted into a well oiled large bowl. 2 hours on the windowsill just above the radiator would do just fine.
She was hungry. Rose at an astonishing rate. More than doubled.
Without waking the the hungry beast, it was carried to the kitchen, set upon the counter and punched down. Aggressively. One does not have to fear or tiptoe around dough.
At first it lay limp, but I squeezed and rolled and slapped until it started to resist, it tightened, the air bubbles popped. Elastic and structured. I sliced the dough into 3 and pressed on. Each piece handled, rolled, slapped down. Shaped into a rectangle. Folded in half. Rolled. Resistance. Pull back. Roll. Finally it relaxed a bit and fell limp. Ready to be placed onto the prepared sheet pan covered with a single layer of parchment.
This happened two more times until all three baguettes had been formed.
Covered with a damp cloth, I let the dough rest and rise for another 45 minutes more.
The oven was preheated to 400 degrees. The baguettes were unveiled and slashed. Aggressively. Do not fear the dough. Remember, the dough is strong. It can take it.
Before being placed in the oven I sprayed water onto and around the baguettes. The steam aids in keeping the outer crust from burning while the inside is cooking. It also aids in browning. Unfortunately, our little wall oven refuses to brown anything to our liking. Everything comes out on the brink of being just perfect, color-wise, but not. But we've made peace.
The baguettes baked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. The oven was turned down to 350 degrees, the pan was spun to promote even heating. Things remained constant for another 25 minutes more. After this time, a wash of egg white and water was brushed on. This gave shine. Was it needed? Probably not. But, the recipe, Joy of Cooking French Bread, page 601, called for it. 5 more minutes. Pulled from oven and placed onto cooling racks.
Now, the hard part. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. How many times did I pick up, flip over, tap ever so firmly, to hear that wonderful hollow sound? Its echoes traveling from one end to the other through the cavernous crumb.
The crumb. Sometimes I could really care less how the bread looks on the outside. Don't get me wrong. I want it nicely browned, a vision of wood-burning perfection, but it can look like it fell into the wrong hands, an amateur, if you will. It doesn't need to look pretty. It can be irregular in shape with one end bulbous, the other a pointy tail. Not gooey and tight or fluffy and gummy. I want crunchy on the outside with caverns of lacy crumb on the inside. Uneven, damaged, perforated holes sending hollow caves traveling about in uneven mazes. This is the bread of dreams. To slice, slather on a bit of this or that and have this or that gloop out to the other side because of that annoying hole that developed over rising, forming and baking.
So, yes...it seems we take our bread rather serious.
And while I've rambled on, the bread has cooled. It was sliced...and beauty.
Bread that took about 4 hours from start to finish. Simplicity of ingredients and procedure. A recipe that works.
We sopped up the red sauce lingering in our pasta bowls with slices tonight. Red sauce with bacon and mushrooms...but that's another post for another time.