One of the things I miss most about Europe is the tasty - steaming hot - fresh bread which you can get from the local bakery every day.
As I was growing up, my parents frequently sent me the the bakery around the corner a few minutes before 6:00PM when the fresh bread came out of the oven. I happily stood in line, in rain and in shine, in snow and in wind, with canvas bag in hand, eagerly awaiting my turn to get a few loafs of steaming hot bread, knowing that I will be the first to get my hands on the fresh and chewy - steaming hot goodness in the center of that bread.
Despite the fact that I lived only 3-4 buildings away from the bakery and the bread being so hot it could burn your fingers, on a number of occasions I got in trouble with my parents as by the time I made it home, the 2 loafs of bread had become 1 loaf of bread and one completely hollow bread crust (me having eaten the center part).
For decades, living in a Californian suburb, I tried a great number of breads, purchased from local stores and farmers markets, but was never able to find anything even close to the bread I had when I was growing up. That was until recently...
A few months back, during a dinner party with some friends - a german friend of mine shared how he has been making bread at home for years and how fun and easy it was. After he shared some of his recipes with me, it took me a while to get the courage to try them as I have never had great success baking bread in the past.
In short, here are the results.... Making and baking bread is much easier and faster that you may think. Kneading the dough by hand was fun and actually very relaxing. And the final result was a bread so good, that it does not last more than a few hours before it is all gone.
Here is the simple recipe I tried first. It worked very well for me, I hope you enjoy it too.
Easy Baguette - Recipe
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
500ml lukewarm water
850g unbleached all-purpose white flour (I used King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
(Optional : 1 egg, beaten and mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water)
In a small bowl dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Stir with a fork. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Combine the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture, and stir the remaining water by hand. Mix the dough until it is sticky enough to knead.
On a lightly floured board, knead for 6-10 minutes. The dough should be sticky and smooth.
Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume - about one hour.
Shape the dough into one large flat rectangle and cut into 3 baguette shaped pieces. Transfer the loaves to a baguette-shaped baking pan (with some flour sprinkled on the bottom so it does not stick) and let rise until nearly doubled.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place a bowl with 1-2 cups of water in the oven.
(Optional: Brush the baguettes with the egg-water mixture)
Score the loaves diagonally across the top with a sharp knife.
Bake the baguette for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and cool on a rack - covered with a clean towel or cloth for about 10-15 minutes before slicing.
Enjoy the fresh made bread.