24 February 2011

A Rustic Morning

Rustic is a fun word. I see a lot of products labeled it now; not quite at the level of "healthy" (like hell you are) or "organic" (that one is actually certified), but growing. Dear sir or madam: if your product is produced on a conveyor belt or otherwise done in an assembly line, it probably isn't rustic. It may be done in the style that is rustic, but if five pairs of hands (no less than three of which were robotic) mixed, kneaded, and shaped my dough, I'm going to call bullshit on rustic-osity. And then I'm going to use it myself. For things that are questionably rustic.
This morning brought me another round of those infinitely-yummy rustic baguettes. You should make them. Seriously, its not that hard, they taste better than most bakery bread, they use very few ingredients, and you can use them as your palette for experimenting (much like I do with shortbread). Oh, also, I started making Hario coffee again - I think I'll do a post next week with more details about my method. But the baking process let me: wake up, remove bread from oven, putz around with breakfast, move my car, make drip coffee, drink it while I shaped and cooked the bread, then pack for the day as bread cools.  It is a great way to start a day.
Back to the baguettes - this time I substituted some Scottish Oats one-to-one for some of the bread flour and put some grey salt on top. I was trying for a chewier bread. I couldn't tell if it was chewier than normal when eating it but it had far more gluten than normal in the working. Also the salt was a great touch. I also tried a new preparation method - autolyse. Damn my experimenting-but-changing-two-variables method! It doesn't actually tell me what had the most effect or if the combination of things did it. Anyway, recipe + instructions follow. You owe it to yourself to make this bread - I even put amounts in volume not weight so you can try it!

Chewy Rustic Mini-Baguettes
Makes 6-12 single-serving baguettes, depending on size
70 minutes one day, 80 minutes on a following day
(~20 minutes of real work total)
~2 cups (240 g) bread flour
~1 tsp (6 g) salt
~3/4 tsp (2 g) instant yeast
1 cup (227 g) cold water
~1/4 cup (40 g) Scottish-style oats.

At least the day before you want to bake the bread, if not further in advance, combine the flour, oats, and water in a bowl. Mix with a spoon for about a minute until evenly mixed. Let rest for 25-30 minutes, covered - this step is optional; if you are pressed for time, you don't need to do it (but your bread won't keep its shape as easily). Add in the yeast and salt, wet your spoon, and mix again for a minute until evenly distributed. Let sit for 10 minutes, covered.

Stretch-and-fold the bread. I like my "lazy" method - run your hands under the faucet for a second or two, then gingerly lift the dough out of the bowl. Pull the left side out to about double the length of the bread, then fold it back over the top. Rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat stretching and folding the left side. Rotate 90 degrees, stretch/fold the left half again. Rotate 180 degrees and stretch/fold one last time. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover it. Wait 10 minutes and do this again, then do this 2 more times after that (4 complete stretch-and-folds, 10 minutes apart).

The first one should be very easy to do; the dough should be a little sticky to your hands, and it should sag noticeably if you don't support it. By the last iteration, the dough should be very gluteny (resists the stretch portion) and less sticky, though still a bit.

Refrigerate overnight (or for up to 4 days).
The day you want to bake it, remove it from the fridge about an hour before you want to put it in the oven. If you want to be all awesome, and have a pan/dish/something that can take a 550 degree oven plus water being poured over it, stick that in the oven ~45 minutes before baking time and turn the oven to 550 degrees. Otherwise, just preheat your oven to 500+ degrees with enough time to get hot.

After an hour of the bread sitting out (it may have risen a little), flour a work surface heavily. Flour your hands heavily. While you are at it, flour your clothes, just to be safe. With a wet spatula, very gently transfer the dough from the bowl to the work surface. Put more flour on top of the bread and gently, with your hands, pat it into a rectangle.

Using a chef's knife or pastry blade, chop off about an inch thick portion parallel to the short edge of your rectangle. With flour-dusted hands, gingerly pick it up - it should naturally double in length during this process - and transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is prepared. You can attempt shaping it by twisting it, knotting it, folding it over itself, or any combination of the above, or you can just let it be. It will puff quite a bit in the oven.
If you decided to go the awesome route, prepare enough water to fill the bottom of whatever dish you decided was safe to about 1/2 inch or less. Place the sheet pans in the oven, below the dish, then pour the water into the dish. Careful, it should instantly turn to steam and this can be very violent - have long sleeves, do it from a distance, etc. Shut the oven door, reduce heat to 475 degrees. They need about 12-15 minutes to cook - once they are a little brown and have a hard skin, shut off the oven heat. If you like them crispy, leave them in the oven for 3-5 minutes; otherwise remove them immediately. Let cool for about 15 minutes then eat. The sooner the better, of course.

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