At first glance it might seem that I am just a happy, normal girl who loves to bake and walk her dog. However, I have suffered with an eating disorder since I was 13. It was only in May 2014 when I realised that this Voice in my head was slowly but surely trying to kill me. And so began the long, hard, and painful journey which is recovery...

I want My Cocoa Stained Apron to be a special place...a place for reflection, memories, shared stories...and of course a little bit of cocoa-staining ;) Recovery might be the hardest thing you ever choose to do in this life. But it is also the bravest and best decision you will ever make.:)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

More French baking!! ;) But this time, the classic baguette. :)

As you all know I am very much in awe of the baking scheme of things in France. And out of all those irresistible baked goods one can readily associate with the French boulangeries...I think the baguette has to be on my top ten, anyway. There's just something truly magical about a baguette...that lovely crisp crust encasing the fluffy, soft inside; that distinctive shape which makes it so easy to cut into little portions...and to ram into your shopping bag when you're in a hurry...and to break off the top part for a nibble as you hurry along. I read somewhere that in France they always buy two baguettes because by the time one gets home from the bakery with the said baguettes, it is a common occurence that at least half of a baguette has already been consumed. And that's not even to mention the gorgeous, mouth-watering smell; that authentic, tantalising it any wonder that the word baguette, when translated straight back into French, actually means "wand"? It's very difficult, after all, to not be enchanted by its charm.
Now of course the one thing about making baguettes at home is that unfortunately, most of us won't be able to produce loaves quite as long as the ones you get in the shops, due to oven and tray sizes. But that's not a problem with me, and I hope it won't put you off either. Mine are rarely the perfect size. I remember the very first time I did this recipe: the baguettes sort of resembled crocodiles because they had ridges that looked like the raised eyes of this reptile, and had narrow ends that looked like tails. But so what. Your baguettes are unique and different from everyone else's... who wants to make an exact replica of another baker's? With the recipe below I usually like to make two medium sized baguettes. Though little ones are cute and fun, and are ideal for making yummy sandwiches or for dunking into soup. :)
  • 350 g strong white bread flour plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tbsp light brown soft sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp easy-blend yeast/7g sachet instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 250 ml tepid water
  • Egg wash or milk for glazing
  1. Grease a bowl with oil. Sift the flour and salt into a big bowl and stir in the yeast and the sugar. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Add the two tablespoons of olive oil and most of the water. Mix with your hands until it starts to come together to form a soft dough. Add a little more water if it feels dry, or a little more flour if it feels very sticky.
  3. Very lightly dust a work surface with flour. Gather the dough into a ball and turn out onto your work surface. Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is soft, pliable and stretchy.
  4. Place the dough in the oiled bowl, turning once to coat the top, and then cover with greased cling film. Place in a warm, draught-free place to rise for about 1 ½ -2 ½ hours. When it’s ready it should be twice its original volume and should feel springy when gently pressed with a fingertip.
  5. Line the biggest baking tray you have – or two if you are worried about the baguettes touching – with baking paper. Give the inflated dough a big punch to knock out the air and then turn out onto a very lightly floured surface.
  6. Knead briefly, and then, if you are making two baguettes, cut the dough into half with a sharp knife. Roll the two halves out into rectangles with a rolling pin. I usually roll mine out to about 30cm x 15cm, but this is a rough guide only.
  7. Roll the rectangles up tightly lengthways, so that you have two longish cylinders. Roll them gently back and forth on the very lightly floured surface to seal the join slightly.  Carefully transfer to the baking tray.
  8. For smaller “demi” baguettes, cut into smaller pieces depending on how big you want them. If they are very small, don’t roll out into rectangles – it’s easier to shape them into balls (roll them underneath the cup of your hand to achieve a nice smooth round shape), before then flattening each ball with the palm of your hand so you have a sausage shape. Roll gently back and forth on the surface and then place on the tray. For medium-sized ones roll out into rectangles as above and roll up in the same way.
  9. With a very sharp knife cut slashes in the baguettes at regular intervals (make the slashes deep, though…I have made the mistake before of only making them shallow and they closed in on me as the bread rose. :( ). Then cover again with the greased cling film and put in the warm place to rise for about 1 ½ -2 hrs.
  10. Preheat oven to 200c/180c fan.
  11. Lightly brush the baguettes with egg wash or a little milk (or if you have any spare egg whites or egg yolks lurking in your fridge that you need using up, they can be used for brushing the baguettes too) and then very lightly dust with flour.
  12. Bake for 15-20 minutes for the big baguettes, or 10-15 minutes for the smaller ones. When they are cooked they should be risen and beautifully golden, and should sound hollow inside when tapped on the base.
  13. Remove from the tray and place on a wire rack. If you like a soft crust as I do, then wrap in clean tea towels to cool. They are gorgeous eaten warm, served as an accompaniment to a main course or stuffed with fillings for very tasty sandwiches. They don’t keep any longer than a day though – it’s a good idea to freeze any remaining baguette in little chunks so that they can easily be reheated. :)

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