Introduction: Crusty French Baguette or Epi

Picture of Crusty French Baguette or Epi

Baguettes may just may be my very favorite form of the ever multifarious bread dough. It has only recently been topped when I found this convenient way of cutting them into epis. There's no more need for a knife since you can just break off a segment! Who doesn't love more instantaneous access to bread consumption.

Now, down to business.

For this recipe you will start with a poolish which will need to ferment for at least three to four hours at room temperature or no more than 12 hours in the refrigerator. For those of us that are not fanatical, a poolish is a preferment dough originating in Poland which combines equal parts water and flour with a touch of yeast and no salt. This is just a variation of a French paté fermentée or an Italian biga. In any case, please keep that in mind during your time calculation for pantry to plate.

I will list the ingredients and equipment here so you know what you're getting in to. Also, I weigh most of my ingredients for accuracy so a scale would be helpful here.

Poolish Ingredients:

0.5 tsp active dry yeast

4 oz. warm water (no more than 110deg F)

4 oz. unbleached bread flour

(I sometimes split this up into 2 oz. bread flour and 2 oz. whole wheat flour but that's just a personal preference)

Bread Ingredients:

1 tsp active dry yeast

2 tsp salt

1.5 oz. warm water (no more than 110deg F)

12 oz. unbleached bread flour

6 oz. cool water

prepared poolish

oil for lubrication

Hardware:

- More bowls than you ever thought you'd need in your life

- Plastic wrap

- A thermometer would be helpful for the water temperatures

- Kitchen scale for accuracy

- Spatula or dough scraper

- Dish towels galore

- Large work surface that you don't mind getting flour all over

- Bench scraper for removing all the aforementioned flour

- Half sheet pan

- Vessel filled with water in your oven

- Spritz bottle of water

- The patience of a saint

And here we go...

Step 1: The Poolish

Picture of The Poolish

Poolish Ingredients (again):

0.5 tsp active dry yeast

4 oz. warm water (no more than 110deg F)

4 oz. unbleached bread flour

(I sometimes split this up into 2 oz. bread flour and 2 oz. whole wheat flour but that's just a personal preference)

I would recommend starting the night before unless you have absolutely nothing to do for an entire day and wish to be no more than 20 feet from your kitchen. But I don't know your life so do what you feel is best.

Procedure:

1. In a small bowl or measuring cup weigh out your warm water and sprinkle with the yeast.

2. Let that rest for a few minutes while you weigh our your flour in another bowl.

3. Pour the yeast mixture over the flour and either whisk or mix with a spatula until just incorporated.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit for either three to four hours before beginning the rest of the bread OR one to two hours before sticking it in the fridge for no more than 12 hours.

5. If you chose to refrigerate it then please take it out and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour before you start working with it.

The poolish in the picture is one that has set in the fridge for 12 hours.

Step 2: The Dough

Picture of The Dough

Bread Ingredients (again):

1 tsp active dry yeast

2 tsp salt

1.5 oz. warm water (no more than 110deg F)

12 oz. unbleached bread flour

6 oz. cool water

prepared poolish

oil for lubrication

Procedure:

1. Later that day (or in my case early the next morning), get out your favorite big work bowl and weigh out your flour and salt.

2. Weigh out your warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle your yeast on top.

3. In another bowl or measuring cup (I told you that you'd need a lot of bowls) weigh out the cool water. How cool you ask? Well, there's a rather complicated equation taking into account poolish temperature, water temperature, flour temperature, and something called friction factor. But rather than needlessly boring you even more than I already have, we'll just say shoot for 75 to 85 degrees if you've refrigerated your poolish and 55 to 65 degrees if you havent.

4. Pour the cool water onto your poolish and begin to break it up with your fingers.

5. Get ready to get messy. Pour your yeast and water mixture over the flour in the big bowl. Use your hand to give it a few turns.

6. Now pour you poolish over the flour and knead the dough for two to three minutes and you form a shaggy dough ball.

7. Chase a loved one or pet around with your hideous dough hand!

8. Get as much dough off your hand as possible and use a dough scraper to gather the dough in the middle of the bowl.

Step 3: The Rest

Picture of The Rest

Cover your newly formed dough with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and fear not for you will use and reuse that piece of plastic for the next 10 or so rest periods.

Let the dough rest for 30 minutes while you sit and a corner and contemplate your life choices.

Step 4: The First Fold

Picture of The First Fold

Now that you have thoroughly thought about why you chose to start making bread anywhere between 5 and 15 hours ago and still have several more hours to go we can do the first fold.

1. Unceremoniously dump your dough onto a very well floured surface.

2. Pat your dough (no need for violence) into an amorphous blob that bears a passing resemblance to a square.

3. Fold the top a little past the midline.

4. Fold the bottom a bit past the midline.

5. It should now look like the strangest letter you've ever received.

6. Now fold the right side over the midline.

7. Fold the left side over the right.

8. Now put your dough packet into a well-lubed bowl (or clean and lube the bowl it came out of because I'm not made of bowls here!)

Step 5: The Ferment

Cover your dough with some well-oiled plastic wrap and allow to rest for one to two hours.

You may use this time to take a nap or watch a terrible horror movie or run to the grocery store because it is well past lunch time and you needed bread hours ago.

Step 6: The Cut

Picture of The Cut

After about an hour, check on your dough and if it looks like it has almost doubled in size then you're in luck! Time to cut. If not, well... check back in an hour after having an anxiety attack over the fact that you may have killed your yeast.

1. Use your dough scraper to get the scraps off your surface before re-flouring it and dumping your risen dough over it.

2. Gently pat down your dough into whatever shape you feel you could comfortably divide into thirds. The sky is the limit. Though vaguely square-ish will help with folding in the next step.

3. Remember that scale I mentioned? It comes in handy again now to get equal dough pieces. Aim for three pieces around 9 oz. each.

Step 7: The Pre-Shape

Picture of The Pre-Shape

Set two of your three pieces of dough off to the side either on another well floured surface or a kitchen towel.

1. Though this is somewhat poorly represented, try to form your dough into a longish rectangle and put the short side closest to you.

2. Fold it like an envelope again, bringing the top over the midline and the bottom over the top.

3. Now fold your envelope in half by bringing the top over the bottom.

4. Repeat this with the other two pieces and place them all seam side down.

5. Revel in your marvelous folding skills.

Step 8: The Rest (Again)

Cover your three rolled pieces with a well-oiled piece of plastic wrap.

Let them rest for five to ten minutes while you do some finger stretches in preparation for the next shaping step.

Step 9: The Shape

Picture of The Shape

Take one of your rested logs and plop it onto your flour work area.

1. KARATE CHOP! Or if you're a bit more gently you can use the side of your hand to press a divot lengthwise into your log.

2. Place your hand back into the divot and using the fingers of your second hand gently grab a small segment of dough and pull it up and over your first hand.

3. Use the heel of your second hand to press this stretched piece into the side of the dough. Please don't squish it.

4. Work your way all the way down the dough, grabbing, pulling, and pressing.

5. Once you have reached the end, repeat steps 1-4 all over again so you have a thin log of dough.

6. Wonder how this little log will ever turn into a normal sized baguette.

7. Repeat steps 1-5 with the other two pieces of dough.

Step 10: The Rest (Again and Again)

Cover your newly formed logs and let them rest for 10 minutes. You should take this time to carefully select which of your plethora of dish towels will be acting as the couche for your baguettes. Just make sure it's as long as your half sheet pan/baking sheet and has a tight weave (no fuzzy towels). Or you may be one of the privileged few that has an actual baker's couche. In that case I don't care what you do with your ten minutes.

Step 11: The Elongation

Picture of The Elongation

1. Scrape as much flour as you can off your work surface. It doesn't have to be perfect but we need a bit of traction for this next step.

2. Remove a log from it's resting place an plop it onto your work surface.

3. Channel your inner second grader as you roll the log back and forth spreading your hands further and further to form a snake.

4. Keep going until it is as long your pan.

5. Set your dish towel in the pan and rub some flour into it (which I didn't do but oh well)

6. Very carefully lift your snake and place it lengthwise into the pan right up against the side.

7. Make a small mountain with your towel on the other side of the snake so it stays in place.

8. Repeat steps 2-7 with the other two logs.

Step 12: The Proof (A.K.A. Another Wait)

Picture of The Proof (A.K.A. Another Wait)

As you can see I used my bench scraper to prop up the last snake. Cover your snakes with a long piece of oiled-plastic and allow to rest for 30-45 minutes.

For once we have a purpose to fulfill while we wait.

Task 1: Liberally lube another sheet pan/baking tray with oil (canola or olive works well).

Task 2: Fill a vessel (I use a loaf pan) half way with water and place in the bottom of your oven.

Task 3: Preheat your oven to 480deg F.

Task 4: Fill a clean spritz bottle with water.

Task 5: Find a thin cutting board or piece of cardboard to act as your baguette transfer board. Or an actual transfer board if you're fancy.

Task 6: Try to remember a time before you clicked on this instructable.

Step 13: The Prep

Picture of The Prep

1. Pull the edges of your dish towel so the baguette snakes spread out.

2. Put your cutting board/cardboard/actual transfer bough very close to your first snake.

3. Use both hands to gently roll the snake onto the board and move over to your well-lubed pan.

4. Roll the snake off the board so the seam side is down onto the pan.

For an epi:

1. Grab your handy-dandy kitchen shears or very large, clean scissors and hold them horizontally and in line with the snake.

2. Angle your scissor approximately 45 degrees and cut about half way into your snake to form a triangle. Be sure you're no cutting all the way through the dough!

3. Pull the triangle to the side so it now looks like a leaf. Cut another triangle the exact same way but pull the triangle to the opposite side.

4. Repeat this process all the way up the dough until you no longer have a snake but instead you're staring at a plant stalk.

For a baguette:

1. Use a large, sharp bread knife or lamé to score the surface of the bread approximately half an inch deep.

2. Moving swiftly so the dough doesn't catch against the serrations, you can make several cuts or one long cut down the center of the dough.

3. Admire your handiwork.

Now that you've finished prepping your dough you can sprinkle it with a tiny bit of flour if you are so inclined. This will fool your friends into thinking you spent big bucks on artisan loaves. Just make sure they never find out how long this took you.

Step 14: The Bake

Picture of The Bake

1. Quickly shove your pieces of edible art into the oven and set your timer for one minute.

2. After the minute is up open the door and quickly spritz water around your loaves. Try to aim for the sides of the oven.

3. Shut the door and set another timer. For how long you ask?

Well, if you doubt your ability to finish all three loaves in a maximum of three days then I would suggest you par bake a loaf and pull it after the timer reaches 20 minutes. I usually par bake one or two loaves then reheat them for 10 minutes in a 350deg F oven and it's like having freshly baked bread every day.

If however you have a greater deal of self confidence or more people to share with than I do, then leave the loaves for 25-30 minutes.

4. Endure a visit from the fuzzy head chef who wonders what's taking you so long.

5. Pull your loaves at the appointed time. My oven tends to be a bit overzealous and I left two loaves for the full 30 minutes. They're a bit brown.

6. Place your fresh loaves in a quiet place away from the prying hands of impatient people including yourself. At this point I would suggest locking it in a safe for the half hour cool down time.

Step 15: The Pay-Off

Picture of The Pay-Off

Congratulations!! After 428,097 hours and an established conviction that you will never try this again you have finally made it to the end!

Now that the dough isn't threatening to melt your fingerprints off take a minute to press lightly against the crust. Do you hear that crackle? That's also known as the best sound in the world. Now either cut or tear into the baguette and after dodging a plume of steam take a deep whiff. That is one the best smells in existence. They need to make candles with this smell. Lightly caress the pillowy-soft inside and wonder how that is possible when the outside is so crusty. Now, EAT THE ENTIRE PIECE! Three-quarters of a loaf later, feeling a strange mixture of joy and shame, and emitting a series of noises you never thought would escape your mouth, you may notice that you've forgotten to offer a piece to anyone else.

You're going to try this again, aren't you.

Comments

tfozzfiberart (author)2017-03-05

love your humor sprinkled throughout! Not sure I'm ambitious enough to try, but it was a FUN read!

Thank you! You should though! Anyway, it's like 70% waiting. Mix, wait, knead, wait, cut, wait, fold, wait, roll, wait, bake, wait. You barely have to do anything :)

ok will do! :) thanks for your reply!

Bruno_Buddy (author)2017-03-06

A very enjoyable read!

jmartin28 (author)2017-03-05

This is the most enjoyable Instructable I've ever read, well done!

DamnNotGiven (author)jmartin282017-03-05

Thank you so much! I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

cherittfn (author)2017-03-05

Will be giving this a try real soon.

DamnNotGiven (author)cherittfn2017-03-05

Good luck!

jchesnut1973 (author)2017-03-03

Wonderful instructable. Have you ever made any sourdough? It seems that your technique would be particularly well suited to sourdough.

Thank you very much :) I've tried starting a starter for sourdough but it turns out that I'm almost as bad at taking care of yeast as I am at taking care of plants. I may try again though quite soon since I miss that wonderful tangy bread.

jtobako (author)2017-03-02

Definitions would help. Shaggy?

What is the purpose of the poolsh?

DamnNotGiven (author)jtobako2017-03-03

Shaggy as in rough. You don't want to knead your dough so much that it becomes smooth and finished though this would take much longer than the kneading time mentioned. A picture of what "shaggy" looks like is included in the pictures for that step.

A poolish, as described, is a preferment dough. Among other things, preferment doughs help to give the yeast a "boost" thus cutting your production time. It also aids in the development of better flavors in your finished bread. If you would like to learn more about preferments then I would suggest checking out King Arthur Flour's page which discusses this in much greater detail:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/prefer...

I hope this helps! Please let me know if anything else is unclear.

Swansong (author)2017-03-02

Fantastic instructable! Lots of great info and wonderful photos :)

DamnNotGiven (author)Swansong2017-03-02

Thank you very much! I appreciate that. I hope it was enjoyable.

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