Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tomato Basil Baguette

With the weather starting to actually feel like Autumn lately, I've been in more of a mood to cook and bake. And with a hankering for some home baked bread the last few days, I thumbed through The Bread Book by Betsy Oppenneer (her second bread book) looking for inspiration. I decided on a recipe for Tomato Basil Baguettes that was marked by an old, discolored piece of paper flagged from who knows when. After a few minutes rereading some of Oppenneer's tips and advice, I was ready to get kneading!

I made some substitutions and modifications to the original recipe but overall, kept the theme. I used my standing mixer to do the first mixing and kneading but did the rest by hand. You can do everything by hand if you don't have a stand mixer or you can do the entire kneading with a stand mixer. Here's the ingredients but I'll note on some recommended changes in my results. Makes 4 loaves.


1 Cup finely chopped onion
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 oz active dry yeast (2 scant Tbsp or 2 packages)
1/2 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees F)
1/2 cut chopped fresh basil leaves (or 3 Tbsp dried basil)
2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tomato juice
2 Tablespoon sugar
5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 oz (~1/2 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese (opt.)

In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, cook the onions, sun dried tomatoes and garlic until transparent, about 3-5 minutes. Don't let the garlic brown. Set aside and cool to about lukewarm.

In a large bowl, soften the yeast in the water. If your yeast is past its expiration date and you want to see if the yeast is still good, add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the warm water, whisk to dissolve the sugar, then sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and whisk again. Make sure the warm water is within the recommended temperature. After about 5 minutes, you should see a creamy foam on top. It's ready to use. If you don't see any foam, your yeast is dead, kapoot. Throw it out and start again with new yeast.

Some recipes don't call for proofing yeast but I like to proof active yeast as kind of a boost to get things started and I know for sure that my yeast is good. It sucks to have done all that kneading work to have flat, unrisen dough. If a recipe calls for rapid-mix yeast, I typically follow the recipe's directions in activating the yeast, that is unless my yeast is past its expiration date and I need to proof it.

To the bowl, mix in the cooled onion, tomato and garlic, basil, salt, tomato juice, sugar. Add 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each flour addition. Beat vigorously with a dough whisk or a heavy-handled spoon for 2 minutes. (This is why I like to use a stand mixer for this part.)

Gradually add more of the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl and forms a mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, adding a little bit of flour as needed to prevent sticking. Try to use as little flour as possible. I flour my hands slightly and then rub the work surface as I go along. Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. If you need help on how to properly knead your dough, check here for a very good video.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat the entire ball with oil. Cover tightly either with plastic wrap or a tightly woven kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm room (65-80 degrees F) for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface (I used my baking pan) and divide dough into 4 equal parts. Using your hands, roll each each into a 15" rope. If you have baguette pans, oil them lightly and fit the rolled doughs into them. If you don't have baguette pans, arrange them on well-greased baking sheets, 2 on each. Cover the loaves with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

When there's 15 minutes left of rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Just before putting the loafs into the oven, slash each loaf with 3 diagonal slits about 1/4" deep. Make sure the knife you use is sharp to prevent from tearing the top of the loaves. Sprinkle the top of each loaf with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the loaves pulled slightly from the pan and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (internal temperature should read 190 degrees F). Remove from pans immediately and cool on rack. The baguettes can be stored in an airtight container or ziplock bag for a couple of days. Toast in the oven at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes to crisp up.

Results? The outer crust was delicate and um, crusty, very nice. But it wasn't thick like Parisian baguettes from a bakery. I would have liked a slightly more thicker crust but I think it's the limitations of my electric oven and without using traditional steam baking. I also think a higher temperature at the start would have helped develop a thicker crust. I'll play a bit with that next time.

The inside texture was wonderfully airy and tender, as you can see in the picture below. The Mister said these were the best breads I've baked to date. I have to agree. The flavor was on the mild side, a bit surprising considering the amount of garlic added. I like baguettes to have a bit more depth so I would recommend increasing the salt to 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Overall, a very nice home baked baguette that smells wonderful and has a very nice, light flavor and great texture.

Have a wonderful week. Now go and eat well.

Postscript: Since this recipe made 4 decent size loaves, I shared them with 2 friends. The report back was that the baguette had a wonderful and light flavor and was delicious when toasted and eaten warm with butter. I recommended that the baguettes be toasted since the crust was a little soft from being wrapped in foil (expected). Overall, the baguette held up very well for 3 days. I bet it would make very nice croutons, too.

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