We were watching an old episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” the other night, and the chef at a little dive in Chicago made up a bread that he used in his restaurant, and that he sold to other eateries in the area. The recipe was simple, using just 4 ingredients, and the results looked and sounded great. Trying to recreate the recipe, though, was a challenge, since he started out with 11 POUNDS of flour! Then he dumped in a pound of yeast, a pitcher of water, and an unknown, but large quantity of salt. Since recipes are sometimes posted on the Food Network web site, I tried to track it down and get some more specifics on the water and salt, but to no avail. There were no recipes posted for that particular episode. We set out to create our own version of this bread, and were very happy with the results. It is so easy to put together, and there are so many things you can do with it, that it may become one of my favorite breads of all time. Here’s what we came up with:
10 ounces warm water (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Add yeast to the warm water, stir thoroughly, and let sit for 5 minutes.
Mix flour and salt, then stir in the water/yeast mixture, mixing until the dough comes loose from the side of the bowl. (at this point you may need to add a bit more water; add it one tablespoon at a time)
Divide the dough into two equal sized balls and let stand, covered with a damp towel, for 20 minutes.
Flour your hands, and on a lightly floured surface, roll the balls into 10-12 inch long loaves, cover, and let them sit for 20 minutes.
Turn oven on to 425 degrees.
Flour your hands and again roll the loaves, this time to 20-24 inches, (or whatever length you like your baguettes) cover them and let them sit for another 20 minutes.
With a very sharp knife, make a slit down the middle of each loaf, about ¼ inch deep.
Spray the loaves with water if you want a crunchy crust; leave them plain if you prefer a softer crust.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow loaves to cool on a wire rack.
Variations on the same theme (all ingredients are the same):
If you’re in a hurry, I found you could eliminate the last 2, twenty minute proofs. The crumb gets progressively heavier as you reduce the number of proofs. The reason is that the yeast doesn’t get as much time to “work” and create its carbon dioxide bubbles.
If you’d like to create sandwich buns, take the original recipe to the point where you begin to divide the dough, but instead of cutting it into two pieces, cut it into four. Form the four pieces into rounds, and take them through the proofing process.
If “company is coming to supper,” and you’d like to have a bit fancier presentation, you can create a twisted loaf of bread. Follow the same recipe, divide the dough ball into two pieces, and roll the two pieces out to 12-14 inches. Cover and allow them to proof for 20 minutes. Then take the two long pieces and twist them together, sealing the ends by pinching the dough together. Allow the loaf to proof for 20 minutes, and then bake for 20 minutes.
Finally, you can pretty much go crazy with toppings with this bread. I’ve used poppy seeds, sesame seeds and onions; I’ve sprayed the tops of the loaves with water; I’ve painted the tops with and egg/water wash; I’ve topped them with melted butter; and I’ve left them alone! Knock yourself out.