Now that we've got that out of the way, I'm going to get straight to the point. That is, I am deeply dependent on my bread machine. Never for baking though. I can't stand the loaf shape and texture when it bakes in that odd rectangle pan. I use it for its muscle, and so I don't have to spend time and energy kneading. Just pop the ingredients in the pan, set it on the dough cycle, and leave it, until it's time to shape and bake the loaves. Couldn't be simpler.
And the small amount of effort required to shape a couple of baguettes is truly nothing, especially when you are rewarded with a gorgeous aroma wafting from your oven, and beautiful loaves that could have been bought in a bakery. Well worth it.
So, I'm going to walk you through the steps, so you can see how simple it is. The recipe for Pain Ordinaire is from my bread bible, Rustic European Breads from your Bread Machine. I love this book. Every recipe, bar one (the foccacia), has been amazing. The technique for shaping loaves I picked up from River Cottage Bread Handbook, which is a truly invaluable book, even if you decide to wuss out, like me, and let your bread machine do the heavy business.
As for the Pain Ordinaire, this is the stuff that everyone eats in France, aside from baguettes. It looks like a baguette, it pretty much tastes like a baguette, but technically, it is not a baguette. That recipe is here, and it's more involved, but darn tasty. After the machine's done the hard work for you, this recipe seriously takes 5 minutes of your time shaping, about an hour or so to rest, and half an hour to bake. Yes, that does add up to over 2 hours. But if you're hanging out at home, it certainly won't get in the way of the rest of your busy day. So never fear. And you get to look like a serious badass, throwing down these beautiful, homemade loaves.
Here you go:
Pain Ordinaire in the bread machine - adapted from Rustic European Breads from your Bread Machine
1 1/4 cup warm water
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tsp salt
serrated knife or razor blade
Place water and yeast in bread machine pan, and leave it to bloom for about 5 minutes. The yeast will soak up the water and begin to look a bit frothy. Add the flour and salt, and place the pan in the bread machine, on the Dough cycle. Mine takes an hour and a half, some are shorter. I don't think it really makes a huge amount of difference.
Turn the dough on to a very lightly floured board, lightly flour your hands so the dough doesn't stick (not too much, you don't want to dry out the dough, or it'll become tough), and shape the dough into a tight ball. To do this, I fold a "corner" of the dough inward, to the middle, turn, and fold the next corner, turn again, and fold all the way around, so you have a little packet sort of thing going on. Flip the dough over, so the folds are on the bottom, cup your hands around it, and gently twist dough about a quarter turn, while applying gentle pressure inward and down with your hands, and keeping the dough on the board. This seals up those folds, and tightens the skin, which will give you that nice crust. (I should have taken photos of this, but as you can imagine, it's rather awkward to do while covered in flour.)
Cover the dough ball with a large plastic garbage bag, or an overturned bowl, and leave to rest for about 20 minutes or so. It should look something like this, when you go back to it:
Next, take your dough scraper (you can use a sharp knife, but the dough scraper is super handy, as you'll see in a bit), and cut your dough into two equal parts.
To shape the loaves, gently tap the air out of one risen bit of dough, so it looks like this:
Now, fold the top third of the dough down to the middle, and gently press with your finger tips to seal.
(I don't know why my hands look so oddly red. Looks like they've been dipped in paint or something. Or a vat of acid. Oh well...I do this for you guys, ugly hand photos or no. Guess I won't be modeling for any lotion ads anytime soon. So it goes.)
Fold the bottom third up to the middle, just like you did the top.
(Also unsure of why I appear to be flipping the bread off. Or you people. It's hard taking a photo one-handed, is all I can say in defense of my apparent and unintentional uncouthness.)
Now, take the top and bottom edges and bring them to the middle, pinching together to seal.
You'll end up with a loaf that looks like this:
Flip that baby over, and gently roll it back and forth a few times, until your dough is a few inches shorter than your baking sheet. Do the same with the other loaf, and leave to rise on a lightly floured surface, again covered with a plastic garbage bag. (Many people use a damp tea towel, and you certainly may do that. I picked up the garbage bag trick in River Cottage Bread Handbook, and it keeps the moisture in the bread better. And less laundry. Plus you can re-use the bag several times.)
Once the dough has doubled in size...and this is a variable time, depending on the temperature of your room, the weather, the alignment of the stars, and heaven knows what else...anywhere from half an hour to over an hour usually...it'll look like this:
You'll know it's fully risen when you gently press a fingertip into the dough, and it doesn't immediately spring back, but leaves a small impression. If you allow your loaves to rise too long, they'll fall, so just reshape and let them rise again, if that happens. Don't worry, yeast can be pretty forgiving, and will allow you to mess with it for about 3 rises before baking, if you have to.
While you're waiting for the dough to rise...about half an hour in on my time, turn the oven onto 450 deg F. About ten minutes before baking, place your baking sheet in the oven to preheat. Get a spot set up for this last bit, because it'll move quickly. Near the oven, place your water bottle, a serrated knife, dough scraper, and hot pads, then remove the baking sheet from the oven. Using your dough scraper, carefully run the edge under the loaves to loosen them, then lift one end with the scraper, and one end with your hand, and quickly move the dough to the baking sheet. Repeat with the other loaf. Slash each loaf quickly, three or four times with your knife, and spray with water, place in the oven, and spritz the oven walls several times. Set the timer to 15 minutes, spraying the oven and loaves every 5 minutes. This spraying crisps the crust.
This sounds rather wordy, but it's incredibly easy, especially once you've done it a few times. I'd love to have photos to show you, but I do not have that many hands, alright, people?
When the timer goes off, rotate the pan back to front, and continue baking for another 15 minutes, then allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes.
If you can wait that long.
Happy Bread Baking!