A simple French bread, such as a baguette, isn’t difficult to prepare, but the dough needs long rests and rising time to develop flavor. The work of preparing the dough is easy and not very time consuming, but you have to plan on starting early and making it on a day when you’ll be home for most of the day to monitor the risings of the dough. Shaping variations are given at the end of the recipe so you’ll be able to produce a variety of different breads from this one easy-to-prepare dough.
A baguette is a truly all-purpose bread. Use it as bread with a meal, split for sandwiches, or thinly slice on the diagonal and toast for dips and spreads. Any leftover bread that becomes stale makes excellent bread crumbs.
Keep the bread loosely covered on the day it is baked. Wrap tightly and freeze for longer storage. Defrost and reheat at 375°F (190°C), directly on the oven rack, for 7 to 8 minutes, and cool on a rack before serving.
Wheat-Sheaf Loaf (Epi): This is a great way to increase the ratio of crust to crumb in a baguette. After the baguettes have risen, use scissors to cut through the dough at a 45-degree angle to each side, in alternating cuts. Start at the top of the loaf and make 3 to 4 cuts on each side. After cutting through the loaf, pull the points of the cut areas outward, so that they resemble branches. Needless to say, you must be very gentle with the risen dough during the cutting and shaping or it will deflate. Bake just as you would for baguettes.
© 2008 Nick Malgieri. All rights reserved.