Baguette may have originated in France, but this particular variety is definitely a New Orleans staple. It’s an essential component of the Po’ Boy, a Louisiana submarine sandwich usually filled with fried oysters, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. It’s also delicious dunked into soup, sliced and toasted, or just shared around the dinner table by tearing off a chunk and passing it around. There’s a classic story about a poor man who enjoyed loitering outside a popular bakery simply to smell the mouthwatering aroma of freshly baking bread. The haughty baker grew angry that the poor man never bought any bread and one day decided that payment should be made for the privilege of smelling his delicious bread. The baker had the poor man arrested and both the poor man and the baker were brought before a wise judge. When asked whether he had any money to pay for the smell of the baker’s bread, the poor man reluctantly took out a few coins from his pocket and jingled them in his hand, telling the judge it was everything he had. The judge then informed the arrogant baker that he had been paid: the sound of the poor man’s money was payment for the smell of the baker’s delicious bread. In any case, the taste of freshly baked bread is definitely one of life’s greatest pleasures. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, butter melting into the delicate crumb. Mmmmmmmmm…….
Baguette, New Orleans Style
- 2 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 T salt
- 1 T sugar
- 2 T yeast
- 7 cups white bread flour
- 1 – 2 t butter
- Glaze: 1 beaten egg white with 1 t water
- Proof: put the warm water into a large bowl and sprinkle the salt, sugar, and yeast over the top. Let stand for a moment, then stir to blend. Let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
- Mix: add 5 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to incorporate. Stir in another cup of the flour, and turn dough out onto a floured surface, scraping as much of the dough sticking to the sides of the bowl as possible.
- Knead: add the remaining cup of flour and knead until dough is very smooth and elastic, about 10 more minutes.
- First Raise: butter the now empty bowl and turn dough over a couple of times in the bowl so the entire surface is coated. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in volume, which can take 30 – 60 minutes, depending on the temperature.
- Rest: punch the dough down and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Second Raise: Generously butter four 18-inch baguette pans. Knead the dough 3 – 4 times and divide evenly into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an oblong 7×15” in size, then roll up from the wide end as for a jelly roll. Set into the prepared baguette pan seam-side down and, using a razor or very sharp knife, make a few 3/8” deep diagonal slashes across the top of each loaf. Brush with the egg white glaze, and let stand in a warm, draft-free area until the dough reaches the top of the pans, another 30 – 60 minutes.
- Bake: during the last 15 minutes or so of raising, preheat the oven to 450. Bake the loaves 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350. Continue baking until bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, another 15 – 30 minutes. Remove from pans, cool slightly (just so they’re not too hot to handle) and serve immediately. You can also cool them completely, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap to serve at a later time. Baguette loaves stay fresh for another day or so. For longer storage or future use, wrap in foil and freeze. Bread tastes best at room temperature or warmed. Rewarm loaves in the oven at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes.