Bujtor’s baguettes …

My sense of smell seems to be extremely acute, more sensitive than the average person. Day old left overs will offend, milk well within its expiry date will be nosed with suspicion and I could smell a bushfire from several suburbs away!

But I also get all the benefit of being sensitive to pleasing smells as well. Take a moment to consider some of your favourite smells … mine include that first whiff of coffee in the morning when you are still half asleep, bacon and onion gently frying in a pan and the smell of baking bread. Oh the smells that drift from the kitchen when you have bread in the oven! Your mouth is watering just thinking about it isn’t it?

Non-food related for just a moment, if I may, I also love the smell of new books, libraries, marker pens and strangely enough - chlorine (developed over years of being obsessed with all things swimming!). Before you judge me, admit it - you have some quirky smell skeletons lurking, I know you do!

Anyhow, Andrew and I were discussing my sense of smell the other day after another episode whereby I insist that Andrew pour what is probably a perfectly good carton of milk down the sink because to me, it smells off. The science nerd in him decided to do a little reading, probably to see if there wasn’t something that could be done about my nose issue. He found no known cure but we did learn a thing or two.

Did you know that your sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than that of taste (you can probably triple that in my case!) and that it helps you to appreciate the full flavours of the food and drink that you consume?

The nerves involved in smelling are also linked to the emotional centre of your brain. The receptors that sense smell are called ‘olfactory receptors’ and occupy a stamp sized area in your nasal cavity. When they are stimulated they transmit impulses to your brain via a pathway directly linked to your limbic system, which is the part of your brain that deals with emotions.

At some point in time I am sure we have all experienced a nostalgic smell that brings long forgotten memories crashing back to the present making us smile and long for days gone by. A US Neurologist, Dr Alan Hirsch conducted a study on a sample of 1000 people to determine the most common smells that evoke nostalgic memories for people and not surprisingly baked cakes and bread made up the largest category of nostalgic smells!  http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/articles/intelligenceandmemory/nostalgicsmells.shtml

On that note, to treat your sense of smell I bring you baguettes! It is very difficult to buy good bread in Singapore so over the years Andrew and I have attempted to master the art of baking our own. Andrew takes the lead in the bread baking space, in his mind it is an acceptable and manly form of baking. Secretly I know he likes all kinds of baking he just doesn’t like to admit to the girly style baking of cakes and cookies!

Bujtor’s Baguettes
Baking Baguettes is a bit of a science. I am told that it’s all about the ‘hydration percentage’, measuring your ingredients in grams and keeping to the true baguette ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast.  I think that is why Andrew loves to bake them, he even has ‘Bujtor’s Baguette Spreadsheet’ on excel for calculating his ideal hydration and ingredient percentages (can you tell he works in finance?).

The recipe I give you today is a high hydration baguette. They can be a bit tricky to handle as they are quite sticky due to the high water content. But, persevere and I promise that you won’t be disappointed! At times, you will be tempted to add flour to ease the work but please don’t. If you are frightened by the thought of being able to manage with high hydration dough just decrease the amount of water in part two below which will decrease the stickiness of the dough.

Part One - Poolish
Start by creating your poolish. A poolish is a bread starter also known as pre-fermentation process. The bread baking process is made longer but it is well worth it as it will increase the time your bread can be kept for consumption and it will also increase the complexities of the flavours.

White bread (high protein) flour

In a large plastic container that has a lid combine equal parts of white bread flour and water, Andrew uses 150g of each. Add 1 gram of yeast and mix to combine. Leave in a warm place for 12 hours.

Part Two – The Baguette
175g White bread flour
100g Water
2g Yeast
6g Salt

Add all of the ingredients to the poolish container and stir until they are just combined. Leave the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, this is called leaving it to "autolyse".

Next remove the mixture from the container and knead for 5-7 minutes. The mixture will be quite sticky as it is a high water content mixture but please don’t be tempted to add flour! We have a plastic flexible dough scraper which was very cheap to buy and will help you to move the dough around your work space while you are kneading.

After kneading place the dough back into the plastic container for the first of 6 rises. Place the container in a warm place and leave it for 45 minutes. Then remove the dough once again and ‘fold’ it once.

To fold the dough slap it down onto your work surface, pull the left side out, up and fold over to the centre, pull the right side out, up and fold over to the centre and finally pull the bottom (closest to you) out up and fold to the centre. Place the dough back in the container and leave for 45 minutes in a warm place (2nd rise). The folding process traps pockets of air in the dough which will create a nice ‘holey crumb’ in the baguettes.

At the end of the 45 minutes repeat the folding process, return the dough to the container and place it back in a warm place for the third rise, a further 45 minutes. Complete one further fold and the fourth rise (10 minutes only) then remove the dough and divide it into 3 balls. Lay the 3 balls out on a non-stick tray and return to a warm place for the fifth rise, 10 minutes.

Now you are ready to shape your baguettes! Take one ball of the dough and flatten it out, fold it back on itself and then employ a light rolling motion with your hands to create a long sausage like shape. Repeat with the other two balls of dough then place them in your bakers couche for the final 45 minute rise.

Baker's couche is a canvas cloth made from untreated natural fiber used on the final rise. It helps to extract the extra moisture in the dough helping to give the bread a thick crispy crust during baking. It is also sturdy enough to hold the cylindrical shaped loaves and create a dividing wall between them so that they don’t stick together. A kitchen towel will work just as well if you don’t have access to a couche.

As the baguettes commence their final 45 minute rise turn your oven to 225°C. To get a super crispy crust on the baguette you need to create steam in your oven. In commercial bakery’s actual steam ovens are used, but you can create a similar baking environment at home by placing a dish of water or ice in the bottom of your oven.

When the final rise has been completed place the baguettes on a baking tray and put them into the oven. At the same time add your dish of water to the bottom of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes until golden and crispy!
Serve immediately with generous lashings of butter, homemade jam, chocolate spread, peanut butter, brie cheese – whatever your vice!

If you don’t want to eat the baguettes immediately allow them to cool on a wire rack and once cold place them in a fresh dry kitchen towel and they will keep quite well for at least 24 hours.

Just one of the reasons why I love him so much, what a man that will go through all of that just so his girlfriend can have fresh and delicious home baked baguettes. I am a lucky girl!

Yield: 2 – 3 loaves depending on the size of the baguette you wish to roll out.