honey lavender baguettes

After a very long hiatus from food blogging, I’ve realized that it’s time for an update on my cooking activities. Mostly it’s just been a summer too full of browsing though farmers markets, exploring the coop in my new neighborhood, volunteering at the food shelf’s kitchen and of course baking macarons– much to full to step back and write about it all. I guess I just had no idea where to start, and was dorking out about food enough at my baking job that I was fulfilled (really, quite stuffed) without blogging. But as the summer is winding down and I’m no longer ashamed to take a few hours inside on the computer rather than running around in the sun, it’s time to reorganize my thoughts and say a few things out loud.

There’s a whole list of wonderful summer foods I want to share, but mostly I really just want to take a minute to talk about baking bread. You guys were there as witnesses the first time I successfully made sandwich bread (though luckily no one had to see my first loaf of rock-hard challah bread) and my love for home baking has exploded since then: bagels from scratchpita bread, and herb bread were soon to follow. Now I find my own rhythm to baking bread and have gotten to intimately know the french baguette over the last few weeks. Really, mine is more like a rustic white bread or a classic Italian bread because I take the simple route and don’t use a starter fermentation. But for me what really makes a baguette a baguette française is the texture, crusty and golden on the outside but moist and spongey on the inside. And that I can now do really well.

What I’ve learned over dozens of batches this summer are a few very simple techniques that will ensure the right contrast of textures:

1. Always let your bread rest after it’s been shaped into loaves for at least 20 minutes, but I prefer for them to double in size again right before sticking them in the oven so the final product is light and fluffy.

2. Keep a baking tin of water on the bottom rack of the oven beginning when you turn the oven on to preheat; this creates a steaming effect that traps the moisture in.

3. Halfway through baking, so after about 15 minutes, it helps to take the bread out and spray/mist the loaves with water to make sure it remains moist.

4. Be sure to remember to cut diagonal slits on the top before going in the oven, so they come out looking as good as they smell!

Once the basic recipe is down, almost any flavorings can be added. While I’m always a fan of the toss-whatever-herb-is-exploding-out-of-the-garden-bed recipe, I’ve found lavender honey bread to be sweet yet savory, with the last hint of summer flowers I know I’ll soon be missing.

This is shared with Bread Experience: BYOB, and Yeast Spotting.

Krista’s Honey Lavender Baguettes

Makes two medium-sized loaves. Total time: about 2 hours.

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
Boil a cup of water and add it to a large bowl with the honey and lavender. Let the lavender steep until the water has cooled to warm rather than boiling, about five minutes. Add the yeast, let sit for two minutes, and stir briefly. Let the yeast sit in the water until it starts to bubble up and the yeast is activated, about ten minutes in total.
Stir in the salt, and add the flour a cup at a time (2 cups total), stirring with a wooden spoon. When the dough starts pulling off the sides of the bowl and come together into a ball, dump it on a clean surface dusted with flour. Use an additional 1/2 cup of flour if necessary to knead the dough for five minutes, just enough for it to be smooth and elastic. Be warned that you want baguette dough to be a little more sticky than you might be comfortable with, so you’ll need to scrape it off the counter when you’re finished! Return the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and toss it to coat the oil around your ball of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth dish towel and leave it to rise in a warm place until it has doubled, a little less than an hour. You know that it’s done if an imprint of your finger is left when you poke it.
Punch down the dough and divide it in two. Shape each ball into a baguette: flatten it by hand, then fold it in half, turn 90 degrees, and fold it in half again. Then stretch/roll into a snake and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet with the seam-side down. Cut three or four diagonal slits across the top, and dust with cornmeal if its preferred (I skip this). Cover tightly again and let it rise for another 20 minutes.
While you wait, place a baking tin with an inch or so of water in the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven as high as it will go, at least 450 degrees. After the dough has puffed up again, sprinkle the loaves with water and put the bread on the top rack of the oven. Immediately turn it down to 400 degrees. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and pull it out and sprinkle it with water again. Return the bread to the oven (with the house now smelling distinctly like a bakery) for another 10-15 minutes, until turning golden brown. Test it for doneness by tapping the bottom of each loaf and listening for a hollow sound.

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