Friday, May 30, 2014

Everything Baguettes // Creative Thinking (Weeks 39 & 40)

I don't know what it is about the creative process, but from my experience fresh and imaginative ideas seem to arise from one of two situations: moments when one is deeply relaxed and removed from her usual surroundings (like an afternoon spent drifting down the stone streets of a small Provencal village while eating a lavender gelato, which is exactly when the idea for this little blog first came to me); or moments when one is so rushed and wild that she hardly has a second to grab a cup of coffee let alone come up with some new innovative measure. When placed in either of these situations, for me at least, I don't need to think too much or too hard. Somehow, my subconscious mind just sort of takes over and, before I know it, creative ideas are ripe for the picking. 

While we are certainly a long way from the quiet French countryside, we are about a month into our pop-up season which makes up for what it lacks in fresh herbal gelato with, well, anxiety. Despite that, our wheels have been turning in a way that they haven't proverbially turned in a very long time. Each of us has come home recently with pockets filled with stray paper scraps containing half thought up recipes or seemingly unconnected words or phrases that hint toward new directions to take our brand. It's exciting in a way, and sort of crazy to think that, during a period when we have no real time to think, these ideas just sort of slip slide their way into our thoughts.


In the midst of all this creativity, the chef and I, without really realizing it, sort of weirdly dreamed up the idea for these Everything Baguettes in tandem. I haven't baked up a good bread in a while now, and so I've been daydreaming about all things yeast. Then, last week, I finally had the opportunity to stop and have breakfast at the new Black Seed bagel shop -- a warm, rustic little place with some of the most delicious Everything Bagels I've had in a very long time (I highly recommend a visit if you are in New York). Following this trip, the chef, kind of out of nowhere, announced that he'd been fantasizing about creating a few small batch breads -- something like an "everything loaf" -- that we can use for sandwiches at the shop. And hence, our wheels began turning, our oven began warming, and our kitchen island very quickly became covered in a veil of flour, yeast and poppy seeds. It seems we were meant to be married after all. 

These Everything Baguettes are, in a word, awesome. Thanks to a slow and very fancy steaming process (i.e.: tossing a few handfuls of ice cubes in your very hot apartment-sized oven) the loafs maintain a perfect, crisp golden exterior and a light, airy interior. But if we're being real, they're pretty much just a vehicle for consuming a generous crust of everything seasoning, which is perfectly fine by me. Enjoy. 

Everything Baguettes
adapted from Saveur

- 1 1/2 cups tap water, heated to 115 degrees
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3 1/4 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt, plus 1 1/2 teaspoon
- canola oil (for greasing bowl)
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons dried garlic flakes
- 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
- 1 egg
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup ice cubes
Whisk together the water and the yeast in a large bowl. Allow to sit until the yeast is foamy and begins to smell like yeast/bread, about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons salt, the poppy seeds, the sesame seeds, the dried garlic flakes and the dried onion flakes. Set aside. 

Add flour to the yeast and stir with a fork until all flour is absorbed and a dough forms. Allow dough to sit, about 20 minutes. Add the remaining salt to the dough, gently pressing it into the dough. Add about half of the "everything" seasoning to the dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until elastic, about 10 minutes. The dough will be quite sticky; when needed, add more flour to the work surface and to your hands in order to knead more efficiently. Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a cold oven in order to allow the dough to double in size, about 45 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough into an 8"x6" rectangle. Fold the 8" side toward the middle of the rectangle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center. Return the dough, seam side down, to the greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and return to oven until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Remove the bowl from the oven. Place a clean cast iron skillet on the bottom rack of the oven. Position another rack above the skillet and place a baking stone on it. Heat oven to 475 degrees.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a 14" rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. Place the dough ropes, evenly spaced, onto the floured paper. Lift and gently crease the paper in between each rope in order to form pleats. Place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under the long edges of the paper in order to create support for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to sit until the dough doubles in size, about 50 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap and the towels and flatten the creases on the parchment paper in order to space out the loaves. Using a sharp paring knife, slash the top of each baguette at 30-degree angles in four spots, being cautious to slash (and not tear) the dough. Add a light egg wash to the top of each baguette and generously sprinkle the remaining "everything" seasoning on the top of each loaf. Slide the parchment paper (with the dough still evenly spaced on top of it) onto the baking stone. Place the ice cubes in the skillet and close the oven door in order to allow steam to immediately form. Very carefully (to avoid steam burns) open the oven door approximately every 10 minutes in order to add more ice cubes (there should always be steam in the oven to avoid the loaves burning). Bake for a total of 30 minutes.

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