Monday, December 17, 2012

Easy Homemade French Baguettes {+ Homemade Garlic Bread}

Breadmaking can be an addiction. I love the smell of the yeast, the feeling of the dough under my hands, the house filling with the scent of baking bread, and the finished product, slathered in fresh creamery butter. (Is there anything more comforting?)

That said, however, I don't do it all that often unless I have a good excuse. But this baguette recipe is so simple and straightforward that I can easily justify the effort. Particularly at this festive time of the year. I love to go the extra mile to make the holidays special.

On Christmas Eve, my family usually has an Italian feast of lasagna, and nothing rounds out a carb-fest like lasagna like more carbs covered in garlic and parmesan cheese. And in that spirit, I'll also share the secret for turning this into homemade garlic bread that will rock your socks right off! (Because I seriously dislike the premade store-bought stuff, and this is SO much better.)

Wednesday I will share with you another Christmas Eve favorite. Don't forget to stop by again!

Easy Homemade French Baguettes
from Kelsey Nixon

2 envelopes dry active yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
2 Tbsp. honey
3 1/2 to 4 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
Cornmeal, for dusting pan
3 to 4 ice cubes

Combine the honey, yeast and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir to combine and let the mixture stand until the yeast is activated and begins to foam, 5 minutes.

Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl with a dough hook and slowly add in the yeast mixture. Gradually add 1 cup warm water and mix until the dough comes together into a ball that is not too wet (you may not need all of the water). If the dough is sticky, add a little bit more flour. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 2 to 6 minutes. You can do the thumbprint test: press in the dough with your thumb and it should bounce back when it's ready.

Form the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover with a dishcloth, so it doesn't dry out. Let rest in a warm environment until doubled in size, 25 to 30 minutes.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Shape into 2 baguettes by making a flat rectangle out of your dough, then folding the top and bottom towards the middle, like an envelope, and sealing the seam with your fingers. Keep repeating the folding and sealing, stretching the rectangle lengthwise as you go, until it's about 12 to 14 inches long and 2 inches wide. Fold and seal either end to round. Flip seam-side down and place on a sheet pan or baguette pan that has been dusted with cornmeal. Score the tops of the loaves, making deep diagonal slits 1/2-inch deep, cover with a dishcloth and let rise in a warm environment until they have doubled in size, 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and position your oven racks with one on the bottom and the other in the middle. Place an oven-safe (non-glass) bowl or pan on the bottom rack.

When your bread has doubled for the second time, remove the towel and quickly and simultaneously, slide the sheet tray with the baguettes onto the middle rack while carefully throwing the ice cubes into the bowl on the bottom rack (honestly, I skip the bowl and throw it directly on the bottom of the oven, but this is probably safer and stuff). The ice will create a burst of steam that will give you a nice crispy crust. If you have a glass window on your oven, place a towel over it when throwing the ice in, hot glass can shatter if ice touches it. Quickly shut the oven door so no steam escapes. Bake the baguettes until golden brown, 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Now that that's done, make it in to garlic bread! Here's how:

Homemade Garlic Bread

6 lg. cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley, chopped
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf French bread, cut lengthwise
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated (plus more to sprinkle on top if desired)

Preheat your oven broiler on the Low setting (or if your broiler only has one setting like mine, set your rack down from the broiling element a bit).
In a small mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the bread to make a paste/spread (you can also use a food processor if you’d prefer).  Using a flat knife or spoon, spread the butter mixture evenly over the non-crusted portion of the bread. Sprinkle with additional grated parmesan if desired.
Set both sides of the bread, spread-side up, on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and place in the center of the oven under the broiler until the butter is melted and the top starts to becomes golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Take care to pay attention to the bread so it does not burn — it can cook quickly under the broiler.
Once golden, remove from the broiler and set on a cutting board. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes in order to handle. Using a serrated bread knife, cut the bread into portions and serve.

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