Home Baked Bread

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By Steve Anderssen

One of my guilty pleasures in life is to eat fresh hot bread. I‘ve been secretly adoring it for decades. And, yes, we know about carbs, gluten, whole grains, sugars, too much white flour and blah, blah, blah. But I still love my bread!

My personal favourite is Vietnamese Style Baguette (Banh Mi Tay). It has a fluffy white centre and crispy outer crust. This style of bread was influenced by French bread-making methods and crunches when you bite into it. They are available in many Vietnamese bakeries in Melbourne, including a few local ones. But nothing beats the pleasure to be got from baking bread yourself.

Here is a simple recipe for this delicious treat. The process may appear time-consuming and complicated at first, but the rewards are worth the effort. If you follow the instructions closely, your bread should rise without any problems. It helps to have a food processor, a warm kitchen and a few hours to spare.

Vietnamese Baguette (Banh Mi Tay)                                                                                        
(Makes 2 x 38cm loaves)

INGREDIENTS

1 x 7g package active dry yeast
½ plus 1 cup warm water 41- 46°C (105 -115°F)
3 ½  cups low-protein, unbleached all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 ½  teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

SPECIAL EQUIPEMENT

Large capacity food processor
Oven tray with baking paper
Razor blade or very sharp knife
Plastic dough scraper
Plastic spray bottle

METHOD

1. Mix yeast in a small bowl with ½ cup warm water (just above blood temperature). Add sugar and stir. Set aside for 5 minutes, until foamy.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour and salt into food processor.

3. Slowly pour yeast mixture into the flour in processor. Gradually add 1 cup of warm water, blending just until dough forms a ball and pulls away from side of processor bowl (1 minute).

4. Replace feed tube. Let dough rise until it nearly fills bowl (1 hour). Pulse 1 or 2 times to slightly deflate the dough. Let the dough rise again and deflate. Let the dough rise one more time. You’re aiming for 3 risings. Each one takes less time.

5. Flour your hands and work surface with 1 tablespoon of flour. Turn out the soft sticky dough, being careful of the blade (use a scraper). Gently rotate the dough on work surface, so it’s lightly dusted and does not stick. Divide the dough in two with a knife.

6. Shape baguette, with floured hands. Gently press each half dough ball into a flat oval shape. It should naturally stretch lengthwise in one particular direction. Shape lengthways along the grain of the dough to promote a big rise.

7. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up as if it were a very wide and narrow business letter. Gently seal the edges by pressing to form a fat log. Your aim is to coil the dough so that when it’s baking, it will spring and burst open beautifully. Keep air in the dough as much as possible without breaking skin. Turn logs over (seam side down). Gently roll back and forth with your palm to elongate and stretch into 2 x 38cm long loaves. Place on oven tray lined with baking paper.

8. Lightly spray loaves with water to prevent the dough from drying and inhibiting rising in the oven. Set aside in a warm draft-free place for 30 minutes, or until just shy of double the original size.

9. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230C/450F and put a large pan of hot water in the bottom of it, to create steam.

10. When the loaves have risen, use a razor sharp knife to make 6 shallow diagonal slashes down length of each log. Mist the loaves with 5 to 6 sprays of water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

11. Bake for 20 minutes: After baking for 3 minutes, mist the loaves again. Repeat after 3 minutes.  At the 15-minute mark, rotate the pan for even browning and crispiness. The browning happens quickly at this stage so monitor the loaves and the oven temperature carefully to prevent burning. For the last minute, I turned them upside down on the tray, to brown the bottoms. Cool 30 minutes.

Photos by Steve Anderssen © Copyright 2012

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