Sunday morning when we're up before the sun is a good time to put up some bread to rise. It's a good way to take advantage of the day. I learned this in my childhood, growing up with parents who loved to bake. Weekends at home involved lots of flour spilled on the floor, wildly delicious scents coming from the oven and (much to my embarrassment) opera played way too loud with all the windows open for the neighbors to hear.
I have a tattered and stained copy of James Beard's Beard on Bread dated July of 1976, inscribed from my father to my mother. I was a year and a half old at the time. I like to think about how happy she must have been to get this gift, at a time when money was scarce and baking your own healthy loaves was (and still is) an excellent way to nourish your family. The book is literally a treasure trove of amazing, unique bread recipes. I love that my copy is falling apart at the seams and has my mom's notes scribbled beside many of the recipes.
Beard's recipe for french baguettes is not very traditional, nor is it the recipe that I grew up on. I know my father doesn't use olive oil in his baguettes. As luck would have it, these turned out to be the best looking baguettes I've ever baked. They are flavorful, thanks to the olive oil, but to be honest, they are not as good as my dad's. How could they be?
Adapted from James Beard
2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour (all flours seem to react differently, so you just have to play it by ear)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the oil and 1/4 cup of the water. Beat this mixture well with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and continue to beat with the wooden spoon. Alternately, add flour, one cup at a time, and water, until you have a fairly soft dough, reserving approximately 1/2 cup flour for kneading. Remove the dough to a floured surface, and knead for several minutes until it springs back very briskly when you press your fingers in. It must be smooth and satiny. Oil a large bowl lightly and let the dough ball rise until doubled in size. (Cover bowl with a dish towel.) Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then divide the dough into 3 and shape each portion in to a baguette. Once placed in the pan, let the dough rise again. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Before putting the baguettes in the oven, slash each one with a sharp knife. Bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown with a crisp exterior.
Tiens, Pépère, tu veux goûter?