Getting Back to The Basics with Bread

By any reasonable accounting, the cash cost of baking your life’s first three baguettes may be about 17 cents. On the other hand, if you factor in your time and effort (especially if you do a 14-hour “pre-ferment” mysteriously known as a Poolish), the cost of those loaves might be $397. Yes, you can buy three baguettes at the supermarket for a lot less than that $397.

Then again, I can’t imagine anybody baking bread of any sort at home to save money.

Want to save money? Buy all your bread from the high-volume, multi-shortcut, cheap-ingredient industrial bakeries that keep our nation supplied. Then again, it’s hard to think of anything cheaper than 17 cents. It’s all those other costs surrounding time and effort that the big boys hammer away at bigtime, starting with the economies of scale and riding the train from there.

I say baking any bread is less for your pocketbook than for your soul. And having just baked my first batch, I’m sure I’m telling you the truth. The end result, however long it takes based on whichever recipe you choose, is far more profound than the flour, water, yeast and salt you mix together in the course of your baguette adventure.

Strangely, the first thing I wanted to understand was the word Poolish – describing a kind of “starter” that ferments flour with water and yeast before you even get around to making dough. Turns out, the answer to my linguistic question is – nobody knows. Perhaps, some believe, there were some Polish bakers who came to France in the early 1840s, but it’s hard to take that seriously – not least because “Polish” is the English word for people from Poland, not the French word.

CLASSIC FRENCH BAGUETTE

With the small monetary investment as encouragement, I hope you’ll try making these baguettes at home. This is a rather delicious and forgiving recipe – bread baking with a learner’s permit – supplied by King Arthur Flour.  

POOLISH

1/2 cup cool water

1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

DOUGH

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water

All of the Poolish

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

Ice cubes

To make the starter: Mix everything together to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have expanded and become bubbly. To make the dough: Mix and knead everything together — by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, somewhat smooth dough. Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-sized bowl, cover , and let rise for 90 minutes, gently deflating it, folding the edges into the center, and turning it over after 45 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Gently deflate it, and divide it into three equal pieces.

Round each piece of dough into a rough ball.  Cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes; or for up to 1 hour. Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough slightly then fold it nearly in half, sealing the edges with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough around, and repeat, and then again. The dough should have started to elongate itself.

With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 16″ log. Your goal is a 15″ baguette, so 16″ allows for the slight shrinkage you’ll see once you’re done rolling. Taper each end of the log slightly to create the baguette’s typical “pointy” end.

Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans. Cover them with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise until they’re slightly The loaves should certainly look lighter and less dense than when you first shaped them, but won’t be anywhere near doubled in bulk. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature (about 68°F).

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F with a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, or on the lowest rack. Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three to five long slashes in each baguette. Load the baguettes into the oven on a pan or cookie sheet. Carefully toss the ice cubes into the bottom pan and close the oven door to retain the steam. This will help the baguettes rise, and give them a lovely, shiny crust. Bake the baguettes until golden brown, 24-28 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack. Makes 3 (15-inch) loaves.


MOM’S ITALIAN BEEF SANDWICH

1 boneless beef chuck eye roast (about 3 1/2 pounds)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup Mom’s brand Sunday Sauce

2 cups beef stock

1 6-inch lengths freshly baked baguette, sliced across

4 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Italian giardiniera mix

Position a rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Liberally sprinkle the entire roast with salt and pepper. Heat the in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the roast on all sides until golden and caramelized; reduce the heat if the fat begins to smoke. Transfer the roast to a plate and reduce the heat to medium.

Add in the onion, carrot and celery. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper and sauté until fragrant, another minute. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Deglaze with the red wine and cook until reduced by half. Add in the Sunday Sauce and stock and bring to a simmer. Place the roast back into the pot with any accumulated juices and place in the oven. Cook the roast, turning every 30 minutes, until very tender, 3 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Increase the oven heat to 350 degrees F. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil. Strain the pan juices through a fine sieve. Bring to a simmer and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Once cooled a bit, pull the meat into smaller chunks (or, if you are able, slice it very thin), return to the reduced jus and reserve until ready to build the sandwiches.

Toss the pepper strips with the olive oil, granulated garlic and some salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring halfway through, until lighter in color and soft, about 20 minutes. Generously pile beef on a roll, then some sweet peppers and then some giardiniera. Pour a small bowl of reduced jus. Take the whole sandwich and dunk as you eat. Serves 4.


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