Monday, November 29, 2010
Classic French Baguette Épi
Thanksgiving 2010 was a success, particularly if measured in terms of overeating and unbuttoned pants. As you know, my contribution this year was a fancy artisan épi (a baguette formed to resemble a stalk of wheat), thanks to Peter Reinhart's newest cookbook Artisan Breads Every Day. So much energy is put into the turkey, stuffing and pies that the simplest form of comfort food, good bread and butter, often gets overlooked. Talley changed everything a couple of years ago by making Jim Lahey's celebrated No-Knead Bread so I took it upon myself to continue the baking tradition.
If you're already thinking that a baguette seems too complicated, let me assure you that there are no fancy gadgets or special equipment involved. If you have a mixing bowl, two hands and a regular old baking sheet, you're set.
The dough itself is very straightforward: flour, salt, yeast and water. But the trick is to begin at least one day in advance so that the flavors can develop during a slow overnight fermentation in the refrigerator.
While I was incredibly pleased with the results, I did learn a couple of things the hard way.
1. When creating the necessary oven steam, do not pour cold water into a searing hot Pyrex dish. It will explode.
2. To cut the épi shape, make each cut in the same fashion down the length of the loaf. The only thing that changes are the alternating directions of the "rolls" (the aesthetics of one of my loaves was sacrificed in order to learn this lesson - but it was still delicious).
This classic recipe (which starts on page 49) produces one of the finest baguettes available, and with minimal effort, which means that you don't need the excuse of a holiday to enjoy it.