Ask someone from New York City about bagels and they’ll tell you that the reason that bagels made in the area are so unique is the water. In other words, for the perfect bagel, you have to start by making it in New York! Fortunately, there are not many other favorite or popular bread recipes that are “location bound” and you can learn how to create delicious baked goods using recipes that can be put to use anywhere in the world.
Perhaps one of the most iconic bread recipes is for the type of bread known as the “baguette”. What many don’t realize is that a baguette is quite complex. Today, it is not made according to a single recipe, and takes its name from the shape. The word translates from early French and Italian, and both countries used the term to describe a little stick.
However, in France, the history of the loaf is fascinating. In the years following the French Revolution, the making of bread had to follow specific legal guidelines. Wheat flour could no longer be restricted only for the wealthy or elite, and the official formula had to include 3/4 wheat along with 1/4 rye and with the bran included.
When Napoleon came to power, he took further action and his government created standards for the making of everyday bread. It had to include specific ingredients and baking methods. Later leaders created laws about the kneading and aeration of the dough, as well as mandatory sizes and shapes.
Of course, you can enter ten different bakeries today and find “baguettes”, but they will not be the uniform loaves of that older period in France. Instead, what you find is a long and thin loaf with a crust that may be chewy or softer, and dough that is airy and leaning towards sour flavors.
However, a simple search for a “recipe” reveals that there is a huge debate about the best approach to this essential loaf. As one enthusiast said, “Despite the simplicity of its four ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast – the fermentation and baking process is complex, requiring the baker to take into account the weather outside, the temperature within the bakery, and the feeling of the dough.”
One food expert, however, has created a fail-proof “four hour” approach:
Recipe for Three Baguettes in Four Hours
1½ cups (12 ounces) water, heated to 115° F
1 teaspoon (⅛ ounces) active dry yeast
3¼ cups (14⅔ ounces) all–purpose flour
3 teaspoons (⅜ ounces) kosher salt
Light/neutral oil, for greasing bowl
½ cup ice cubes
Whisk water and yeast in bowl, let stand until foamy (ten minutes). Add flour and use fork to blend until all flour is absorbed. Let sit for 20 minutes. Add salt and put dough on floured surface, Knead till smooth – approx. ten minutes.
Remove to greased bowl, cover with plastic and put in warm spot to double in size, approx. 45 minutes.
Remove dough to floured surface, shape into 8″x6″ rectangle. Fold the longer side to the middle and the shorter to the center. Return to bowl, recover with plastic and allow to double in size, approx. 60 minutes.
Prepare oven by putting cast iron skilled on lower rack and baking stone on rack above it. Heat to 475 degrees.
Remove dough to floured surface and cut into three lengths – shaping each into 14″ baguette. Place parchment paper on rimless baking sheet and sprinkle with flour. Place loaves evenly spaced on paper. Cover to rise until doubled, around 45 minutes.
Remove plastic and slice loaves diagonally. Gently slide the parchment and loaves to the stone. Quickly place ice cubes in pre-heated skillet and close the oven door immediately. Bake 25 minutess and cool to serve.
Served warm with butter, baguettes are a dream, but you can also use them for some of the most delicious sandwiches imaginable. Classic combinations include:
Smoked ham, camembert and fig jam
Fresh mozzerella, fresh basil leaves, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sliced tomato (red onion is optional)
Roast beef, blue cheese (crumbled), watercress, red onion
Roasted chicken, garlic mayonnaise, provolone, arugula, roasted red pepper
Roasted eggplant, sliced artichoke hearts, goat cheese and tomato
HINT: When making any baguette sandwich, you can improve the outcome by making the sandwiches ahead and pressing them (wrapped) under a weight. This creates a dense and easy to transport meal with blended flavors and textures.
Where to find your perfect baguette
On St Martin, guests should visit the Parisienne Cafe in Nettle Bay or Sarafinas on the Marigot waterfront.
In Provence, Isle Blue recommends visiting the local village bakery since good baguettes are pervasive. Whether you are staying in a villa near Gordes, Bonnieux or Menerbes, and any other picturesque villa in Provence just follow the locals to experience the baking delights of the Luberon.