Leader says that he didn't include this recipe in his first book because he thought it was "too simple." In putting together this book, he realized that "its accessibility accounts for its charm."
Well. We'll see about that! Unlike most of the recipes in this book--and French breads in general--this baguette is a straight (i.e., yeasted) dough with no preferment. It has just four ingredients: water, yeast, flour, and salt.
What makes all baguettes unique is the high amount of water and relatively low amount of flour--almost 2:3. This high water content is what gives baguette its large, uneven holes and crackling crust. It can also make these kinds of doughs sticky and difficult to work with.
So we were more than a little surprised--and incredibly elated--that this was one of the most cooperative doughs we've ever had the pleasure of kneading! We think this was probably due to a 20 minute rest between mixing and kneading, giving the flour time to absorb the liquid.
In the middle of rising, there's an instruction to "turn the dough" to reinvigorate the yeast and further develop gluten. This was made a bit confusing by conflicting instructions between the recipe itself and illustrations referred to earlier in the book. If you make this recipe, we recommend simply choosing one instruction or the other since they both accomplish the same end.
We ran into a bit of trouble shaping the loaves and ended up with a some lumpy-looking baguettes. We think this more likely due to our inexperience rather than Leader's guidance. Practice makes perfect.
We loved Leader's advice to form a homemade "couche" out of rolled kitchen towels or placemats draped with parchment paper (see below). This couche supports the baguettes as they are rising, keeping them from flattening.
Baguettes are one of the only breads that are best enjoyed straight out of the oven. And you can be sure we did!
The crust crackled. The crumb was airy and chewy with just a hint of sweet. We started out with well-intentioned sandwiches, but we'd reverted to smears of simple butter by the end.
From mixing to fighting for the last heal of bread, these baguettes only took about three hours. We will definitely be making them again soon--sooner if some of us have any say in things.
Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers by Daniel Leader is available for $23.10 on Amazon.com.
(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)