They sat on a blanket in the grass and leaned their backs against a tree. Margo scratched an errant itch on her arm and gazed out over the fields. “Do you think French women complain about yogurt as much as we do?”
“I dunno.” Her friend Natalie let out a rumbling sigh.
“God, I’m sick of eating yogurt.”
“I know you are.”
They sat in silence for a moment. The wind rustled the weeds around them and a cluster of reeds played them a song. Margo settled back against the tree and tried to get comfortable. “Do you think French people really eat baguettes every day? I mean, that’s a lot of baguettes.”
Natalie reached between them and tore the end off a baguette. “That’s true.”
“Throw me a piece?” Natalie complied and they ate the bread in silence.
“Do you think French people-“
Natalie smiled and placed a floppy hat on her head. She hopped up off the blanket and grabbed the handlebars of her bike. The blanket and baguette were tucked into the little wicker basket in seconds. “Let’s just go back to town and ask them. Okay?”
Margo smiled and grabbed her bike from the other side of the tree.
Look! Bread! WE MADE BREAD.
I’m as shocked as you are.
I will admit, I had my doubts about this recipe. (I also found it hilarious that Food52 is all “It only takes four hours! You can do it!” where other places are trying to get recipes down to, like, 10 minutes or less. We are not a normal group of people, huh?)
But anyway BREAD. On the scale of leave it to worth it (the leave it category includes croissants and bagels. As in, too much work for subpar results at home. The worth it category includes ice cream, air popped popcorn and granola.) I’m going to go ahead and say WORTH IT. These came out truly impressive. They were delicious and so professional-looking. Which is a shock considering I was bumbling around the kitchen most of the time like some kind of demented French cartoon character. BREAD. Glorious bread!
The 4 Hour Baguette
1 and 1/2 Cup (12 ounces) of tap water, heated to 115°F
1 Teaspoon (1/8 ounce) of active dry yeast
3 and 1/4 Cups (14 2/3 ounces) of all-purpose flour
3 Teaspoons (3/8 ounce) of kosher salt (if using a fine-grained salt or table salt, use less salt)
1/2 Cup of ice cubes
1. In a large, clean bowl, whisk together water and yeast; let sit for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy.
2. Add flour to yeast/water and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed. Let the dough sit about 20 minutes.
3. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap and place bowl in cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
5. Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.
6. Heat oven to 475° F.
7. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.
8. Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long.
9. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms)- (so cool!)
10. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.
A few notes:
– The step by step instructions on Food52 include some photos which may help.
– My dough didn’t rise as much as I was expecting but the loaves still came out great. So as long as you don’t kill your yeast (see link in instructions) you should be okay.
– The next day: the bread was still chewy and good but could benefit from toasting. So, you know, eating three loaves of homemade bread the first day is probably not necessary. Or you can just pretend I didn’t say that.