Yes. That is my baby. And she is holding baguettes. Baby baguettes.
I started making baby baguettes for purely selfish reasons. If there is a whole baguette in the house - or god forbid, several baguettes in the house - I can eat them in a sitting. Seriously. So I started to cut those lovely lengths of dough in half, and our baby baguettes were born. The concept is not original, as you can buy "half baguettes" in many bakeries - but I just think calling them "baby" is so damn cute.
I've been making bread since I was little. My dad is an excellent baker and after retiring from the Navy, decided to follow his dream of opening a bakery in San Diego. My brother and I would spend summers there and like any well run kitchen, we too started at the bottom with washing the dishes - or in this case, mixing bowls and baking sheets. Eventually I was moved to the front of the house to help customers. One morning a customer came in and slaved dramatically over her decision of which cinnamon bun (we called them Bonita Buns - for Bonita, California, where we were located) would be her breakfast. Upon finally making her fateful decision, I gingerly picked up the bun with the tongs then promptly dropped her breakfast on the floor with an audible "Shit." I can see still my Dad's eyes from across the shop. So that little incident was what would lead to my first experiences baking in an industrial kitchen as I was then forbidden to talk to customers. It was amazing and an experience that I would repeat in my early twenties in several bakeries, believing that I had found my path.
When I lived in Brooklyn, the first week I was there I met Matthew of Scratch Bread. We seemed to be like-minded in the fact that his baked goods pretty much kick ass. I worked with the Scratch team several times while I was in New York and Matthew once said something that has resonated with me quite strongly. Bread is the life force - it bonds us all. That is a powerful truth, and one that I honor in my kitchen on a much more regular basis now. The act of kneading, hands, shirt, hair dusted in clouds of flour, watching the dough rise, the scent as it bakes to golden hues - the act of breaking that loaf with loved ones. It is spiritual. If you have never made bread from scratch, I encourage you to give it a try. And NO - a bread machine does NOT count. This easy French Bread recipe is a great way to start...
CLASSIC FRENCH BAGUETTES
2 1/2 c. warm water (180F)
2 pkg. yeast
6-7 c. bread flour
1 T sea salt
1 T demerara sugar (classic recipes do not call for sugar - but I love the touch of sweetness; feel free to omit)
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Pour the warm water into the mixing bowl. At first, you should use a thermometer to ensure the water is the correct temperature. If it's too cold the yeast will not activate - too hot and you can kill the yeast. Once you've baked bread for a while you will find that you can touch the water and know that the temperature is right.
Add the yeast and stir just a few times. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes. The water will become cloudy, slightly bubbly and you will begin to smell the scent of yeast - it smells like beer.
In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt and sugar.
On a mixer fitted with a dough hook, slowly add the flour to the water and yeast as the hook it turning. Add the dry ingredients about a cup at a time allowing it to fully incorporate into the water and yeast. This part can be tricky depending on your climate - you may require more or less flour than the recipe calls for. You will know you have enough flour when the dough is a bit spongy, but will not stick to the hook. Let the mixer knead the bread for about 5 minutes. Roll the dough onto a floured surface, lightly knead and roll into a ball shape.
If you do not have a mixer, use a wooden spoon to begin mixing the wet and dry - when it becomes too difficult to stir, roll out the dough onto a floured work surface and continue to knead with your hands. Here is a great video for learning to knead.
Once you've kneaded and shaped your dough into a ball, place it in a large and lightly oiled and floured bowl. Cover it with saran wrap and let it rest in a warm place for one hour. It should double in size. At this time, roll it back out onto your floured surface and knead again. This time, instead of shaping it into a ball you will form long loaves. Start by dividing the dough in half. Each half will yield four baby baguettes - or two full size. You can either freeze the other half of the dough for a later date, or bake it all.
For each half, you will again half that portion - then half it again. You should have eight evenly sized sections of dough. Start by rolling the dough back and forth between your flat palms out in front of you to lengthen it. Then place it back down on the floured work surface and continue to roll the dough with the palm of your hands. Don't stress too much if they are not perfect - personally, I love a more rustic looking loaf. Do this for each section of dough and lay them out on a baking sheet for their second rise. They will rise about 30 minutes this time. Before placing them in the oven, score them with a knife by gently running the blade down the middle of the loaf - the length of it - just hard enough to break the surface. Dust the loaves with flour and bake for 10 minutes or until the tops turn light gold. They are best eaten the same day they are baked but once cool, you can freeze them for up to a month. Simply bring them to room temperature, then pop in the oven at 350F for about 5 minutes before enjoying.