Sunday, 28 February 2010

Exam results are in - Intermediate exam


Earlier in the week we received our grades for the 'Intermediate Exam' we undertook last week at Tante Marie, you may remember the 'issues' I had with my bread and my attempt at piping a pretty design on a chocolate cake... just in case you missed it you can read about that here, towards the end of the post.

Being extremely disappointed with how the bread rolls turned out, and making a couple of other school boy errors I had resigned myself to getting a mark a fair bit lower than what I know I could have achieved. The results were posted on the board in the entrance to Tante Marie for all to see, and low and behold I had somehow managed to score enough to be top of my group and second in the class comprised of the two groups. To say I was very surprised with my position in the class is an understatement, in fact I must admit to feeling slightly embarrassed after discussing with classmates all my mistakes at length and in great detail.

What I wasn't surprised by was my mark of 74% which is just a touch higher than I expected. Not having a clue how the various marking criteria were weighted I came to my expected score by simply imagining that if I had done as well as I knew I could, I would get 100%, then I deducted marks for the errors I made. Simples.

I had a 15 minute debrief on Thursday with 'Mrs A' about the exam, whom I have now started to refer to as 'The All Seeing Eye'. 'The All Seeing Eye' sits at the front of the exam kitchen, pen in hand, note pad on the counter, mini cafetiere no more than arms length away... and doesn't miss a thing... nothing, nada, nowt, **** all, NOTHING!   I had heard this was the case from other students but I guess one does not believe such things until it is witnessed first hand!

'The All Seeing Eye' even reads this blog... I told you nothing is missed!  (Hi Mrs A.. I will bring you a coffee on Monday if you promise not to shout at me for your new nickname!)

So it turned out that my own observations of my short comings in the exam where the same as 'The All Seeing Eyes'... bread was crap, piping was “variable”, lamb jus under reduced etc etc etc. I must say that the positives were also pointed out, those I was most pleased with were my Lamb being cooked well, general level of seasoning being good, and the way in which I work (tidyness etc.) being very good.... so good in fact I received full marks in this area, something for which I have to thank 'Geoff the Chef' for beasting me about when I worked with him over the summer on a yacht.

So all in all I have no complaints, my mind is now focussed on the 'Budget Lunch' exam I have on Wednesday (post to follow shortly). The intermediate exam was a good warm up and introduction to how the practical exams will work here at Tante Marie, I just need to focus more and trust my own judgement, rather than worrying about what I think the examiner wants to see.... and lets be honest when it comes the result, to quote a classic movie...

"there are no points for second place"


Dylan

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

French onion soup the way you imagine it should be

My 'Onion Scale'


Having spent 6 months making French Onion Soup on a weekly basis during my ski season in Val d'Isere, I am fairly confident that I make a mean rendition of it. Now I know many of you out there make a 'mean' onion soup, but unfortunately I have the job today of telling you that you probably don't.

This is not me being an arse-hole, there will be no doubt in your mind when that is the case, its simply the truth. I have sampled many many attempts from Alpine restaurants and from friends alike, some are good, some are ok and some are shocking.... None have been as good as mine. This is not hubris, but fact.

This soup is a classic, and its a classic because its good. Its good because its simple, but because its so simple people get bored. When people get bored they start to meddle and unfortunately when people start to meddle things go off track. I should know... I have done more than my fair share of meddling over the years!

So the secret, the key, the holy elixir of onion soup greatness is...... the onions! Kicking yourself now for not getting that aren't you! Some people say that the secret lies in the stock that is used, and I would agree that a really well made and flavoursome stock is important, but its not the secret to the dish. The flavour that you know and love is not that of the stock, otherwise you would be ordering a beef consommé and not the onion soup... like I said the secret is in the onions and I'm going to show you what that secret looks like. Literally.


No additives, no preservatives, no balsamic, no sugar, no gravy browning... JUST ONIONS and patience

Before I move on I need to make something clear... I am not going to give you a recipe. Instead I am going to give you something far more dangerous than that hand crafted Japanese Santoku you are wielding, I am going to give you an idea. The idea I want to bestow upon you is the bare-bones of a French onion soup, its the DNA profile that makes it what it is, but it is not the worlds most refined and elaborate version. I am willing to bet that if you try this, do not meddle, and take care and time to do it properly you will be surprised and delighted and maybe even astounded at a soup that is probably better than most you have tried before.

So you will need, white onions, garlic, beef stock as well as some butter/oil and seasoning. Simples. All I will say regarding the quantity of onions you will need is that, you will require triple the amount of onions you think you will before you slice them, and double the amount you have after you have sliced them! Confused? Don't be, it will become very clear when you try it. For now try maybe 5 large onions. Also many recipes use balsamic vinegar, sugar, tomato paste and many other things. I don't necessarily disagree with using these, just not today please, trust me on this. We are going to get a pure flavour, you may tinkle with the recipe afterwards but this once do it my way, see what you would like to add then make it again. Things like sugar and balsamic will make you think your onions are at the right stage when they are not.

Take a look at this great bloggers onion soup he was doing well until he added the balsamic vinegar. Look at the colour of the onions, they have started to caramelise but haven't had a chance to develop serious flavour and the balsamic makes them look like they have. (I do love a little balsamic in my soup, the acid cuts the sweetness nicely, but I add it to onions that have been taken to the limit). His post was the inspiration behind this blog... bookmark his site, it makes for good reading!

The key to developing 'that' flavour is looooong slow controlled cooking. This soup is a labour of love, no answering the phone, now watching your favourite soap, no nothing other than the soup.

So lets do it.


You will melt some fat, a touch of oil and a wedge of butter is my choice , add the onions and some salt and sweat in a covered pan for 5-10mins to soften and start to draw some moisture out of the onions. Once softened remove the lid and allow moisture to start evaporating.



You will soon notice that the huge amount of onions you thought you had is no more as they sweat down and reduce hugely in size. It will get worse... or is that better?  Keep stirring and maintain a medium to high heat at this stage until the moisture in the pan from the sweating stage has evaporated then lower it.


After 20 minutes the onions will start to caramelise. This does not mean they brown due to the heat searing the onion, it means as the water in the onion is being removed the natural sugars are concentrating and very slowly caramelising. You may add a whole clove of garlic, un-chopped and un-crushed.... whole.


Make sure you stir the onions every 2-3 mins. As the volume of onions reduces try and make sure the entire base of the pan is always covered in onions. This will speed up channelisation process a little and make for a more uniform colouration and flavour.


Monitor the heat carefully and be vigilant, it only takes a few seconds for the onions to catch and burn turning your soon to be soup acrid. If this happens try and spoon off the onions from the top leaving the burnt ones behind... and start again in a clean pan, using fresh onions if you dont have enough part cooked ones.

Keep going.... be brave, but be careful!


Finally, an hour later we are there! Look at those onions, fudge-like, gooey, deliciously sweet. Just some of the ways that I can think of to describe them. From all those onions we now have maybe two heaped tablespoons of onions... enough for 2 bowls of soup... and if you are me, you will eat them both yourself.



So to finish add you beef stock and simmer very very gently for a couple of minutes, season to taste et voila! You could add a large croûton cut from a baguette, topped with a heart stopping amount of good Gruyère, I'd go for Beaufort personally, but being a very very poor student I couldn't afford the bread let alone the 'King of the Gruyères”... truth be told I couldn't afford the onions, but that's the kind of guy I am, getting into debt to make sure you guys have good soup!

To recap... don't mess with this idea, you only have to do it like this one time so you understand the process and the flavour it develops. You will then understand the heart and soul of this soup and are then free to go wild and add some wine, tomato paste, lychees whatever! Your onions will be the same but you will build a greater depth of flavour around them, hell you may go completely crazy and even add some flour to thicken it slightly... but not this time!
Let me know your opinions in the comments below... I wont bite I promise... oh yeah... HAVE FUN!

Dylan





Monday, 22 February 2010

Week 7 at Tante Marie... and a little rant!

 Monkfish head

So week seven at Tante Marie came and went in a flash, mainly as it was a 4 day week due to Monday being half-term... you gotta love the 4 day weekend, and all in the name of half-term! I feel like a real student again, something that had not previously happened due to all the work and early starts (9:30am) we have to do, unlike my time at uni! Our group was not its usual self either as half of the group were doing their exams so some work was done in a group of three which was thoroughly enjoyable.


Highlights of the week included making Apfel Strudel... and stretching the dough on a cloth over the edge of the work surface. We could have used our hands to do the stretching as the other part of our group did when we were doing our exams, however the bold and intrepid three of us decided to go all authentic with the stretching technique... and wouldn't you know it was easier than hand stretching, if a little riskier. One needs to have their wits about them to ensure that the dough doesn't end up on the floor, but it is fairly straightforward.

My Strudel dough nealry fully stretched out... needs to cover the whole cloth!

We also had a curry session in which we made a variety of Indian curries and breads, the best of which for me was the simple lentil daal, the subtly spiciness and soft creamy texture just a delight... of course the fact that it was one of the dishes I made had nothing to do with that!  A nice and relaxing class that was an ideal warm up for the class members who had exams starting in the afternoon.

The selection of dishes produced in the curry class... Mmmmmm!

Other delights cooked up included a spicy mango chutney (which I am now ageing for full flavour), lemon curd (which I ate with a spoon!!!), twice baked soufflés of smoked haddock, fried brown rice salad, lemon roulade, bouchées au chocolat, lime creams, seared scallops with bacon, rognons d'agneau beaujolaise (lambs livers) and baked monkfish with parma ham and pea purée.

Of course there was the first session decorating our celebration cakes, something which went better than anticipated yet again, which is honestly starting to worry me.  Although far from perfect, my navy border/ribbon around the cake and scroll came out better than I expected and I was very pleased consdering my artistic abilities.

Forgot to take a picture with the scroll on... i know its not much and is simple but I am happy with it so far!

Now a little rant if you will... what the **** is the deal with wrapping great fish in salty ham, can anyone explain this too me??? You have great ham, and great fish, but when combined and cooked you get shite ham and shiter fish. It may indeed be a classic combination, but that doesn't mean its right!!!

I know many of you will argue saying that firm flesh and prominent flavour of the monkfish can compete with the strong tasting salty ham, and indeed the fish is not completely drowned out by it as a more delicate fish would be... but it nearly is! Monkfish at around £16kg is not cheap, and at that price I would like to taste the full flavour of the Monkfish and not the ham, which incidentally is no bargain itself!

I am all for marrying flavours to create something that is greater and delivers more than its core components, but if the effect is the opposite then why the hell bother? Parma ham wrapped around a boring chicken breast is in essence a winner, you can still taste the blandness of the breast, and the salty haminess even helps improve its flavour by massively over seasoning it, no problems with that whatsoever... but a lovely, if ugly as sin fish, rolled in herbs and lemon zest to be then wrapped in 4-5 slices of salt cured ham is nothing but perverse in my most humble opinion.

 My little jar of spicy mango chutney from before the ranting began.

As I said there will be many who disagree with me, some of you may actually know what you are talking about too, but again that doesn't make you, or your palate right either.  Maybe balance is the key to this dish, and if so it surely can't be had by wrapping the fillets completely in ham... or can it?

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section below... I am ready for battle and armed with a thesaurus to take you down!  ;-)

Dylan

Monday, 15 February 2010

My Ultimate Focaccia Recipe

(Beautiful, expensive and exclusive Portofino, Italy)

So having failed so massively at making the little bread rolls in my exam last week at Tante Marie, I decided today to get back on the bread wagon and make one of my favourites breads – The Focaccia.

Garlic and herb Focaccia

Focaccia is as popular as it is badly made, and believe me I have had some badly made ones!  Whilst working on-board large motor-yachts I tried numerous recipes for this fabulous bread, non of which came close to encapsulating the goodness of the version found in a tiny little bakery in the heart of Portofino, Italy. This tiny little bakery that has been going for over 100yrs, serves up what can only be described as the best Focaccia in the world* and may also rate as being some of the most expensive. One day I had to run ashore to pick up some provisions and was asked by the chef to stop by this particular bakery and pick up a few varieties for the guests, and was warned that the old women that serves in there will try and feed me till I burst with various bits of baked goodness... she didn't disappoint. I bought four varieties, each portion being the size of a dinner plate... price... 65 euros! That's some expensive water, flour and oil let me tell ya! But oh yeah it was definitely worth it!

After this experience my focaccia making stepped up a gear trying to recreate that perfect texture and flavour I had experienced, the crispness of the herb variety, or the goey stickiness that came with the onion topped version. After many an hour trawling the internet I stumbled across a recipe that looked as if it may posses the correct texture, and that has to be half the battle right?? So the next day I set about making it. Not bad.. I made it again a few days later tweaking it a little... better... and so on and so forth until I reached this my recipe. I would love to mention the place I first found the base recipe as it was the blueprint for this, just with a little tweak here and there, but I cant for the life of me remember... so if you recognise this being close to your recipe, let me know who you are so I can thank you and attribute it to you!

Ok, enough with the waffle. Lets get baking!


Dylan' Perfect Focaccia
(makes two breads, or if you have a very large oven and baking tray.. one party size!)

For the Poolish:

340g White bread flour
350g Water at room temp
½ tsp Dried yeast. 
(is fine to use fresh yeast if you have it. If using dried just whisk it with the water to dissolve and reactivate it)

To finish the dough:

All the above poolish
330g White bread flour
90ml Olive oil
2 tsp salt plus some for sprinkling
170g lukewarm water
1½ tsp Dried yeast 


  1. Night before making bread mix all poolish ingredients together with a wooden spoon and stir in the same direction 100 times to help develop the gluten (crucial), cover and leave somewhere cool or in the fridge overnight. This should be like a thick sticky paste so don't worry!







  2. Add remaining ingredients and again mix 50 times with a wooden spoon ensuring everything is incorporated. It is still going to be a sticky mess... just go with it. I wouldn't lie to you.. would I?







  3. Remove dough from bowl and place in a greased basin, gently spread the dough into a rough rectangle and fold it into three. Oiling your hands a little will help. Cover and leave to prove for an hour or until doubled in size in a warm place. I used an oiled plastic basin to pour the dough into, you could the remainder on a greased work surface or baking tray.




  4. Because the dough is so 'loose' it should have spread as it has risen and nearly filled the base of the basin, repeat the folding, cover and prove again for an hour or until doubled in size... repeat one more time after this.  The folding helps distribute the various size bubbles that are forming in the dough and is crucial for a good final texture.






  5. Use a knife and try and cut the dough in two, it wont be easy but just get stuck in! Grease two trays with olive oil, or use a teflon baking sheet as I have, and place half the dough on each. Cover with oil (see end of post) and gently push your finger tips into the dough and ease it towards the edges of the tray. Don't worry if it doesn't fill the tray as it soon will. Leave to rest again covered in clingfilm until doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 250c and place a baking sheet you won't be using for the bread in the bottom of the oven.






  6. The dough should now fill or nearly fill the tray. Carefully add more oil to the top of the dough and gently press it into the dough. Any any large bubbles that appear should be gently popped. The idea is to keep most of the gas in the dough so treat her gently. Rest for 15mins then place in a 250c oven, immediately turning down to 220c.  Just before shutting the door, toss a 1/4 cup of water or a few ice-cubes onto the tray you previously placed in the bottom of the oven, shut the door quickly to trap the steam.





  7. Vent the steam from the oven after 8-10mins and turn the tray around and bake for another 8-12mins until cooked through and nicely browned.


  8. Let cool on a wire rack or the base will go soggy, brush with a little oil then sprinkle with sea salt! Don't touch it for at least 20mins to allow excess moisture to evaporate from the dough.... enjoy!




So that's basically that. A few things, I made a flavoured oil with rosemary, thyme and garlic heated cooked gently in good extra virgin olive oil for 6-7mins and then cooled. You don't have to do this as it tastes great with just the olive oil... I would recommend it though. 150-200ml should be about right, save leftovers to make salad dressing with... no measurements for the herbs as I didn't take note, just go with what feels right, taste and add more if necessary!

The second focaccia was a onion topped version, very authentic and my favourite! Finely slice an onion or two or three and place in a bowl with some salt and a little sugar. Mix well and taste a bit of onion, it should taste a little too salty. Leave for 30-60mins and gently squeeze the liquid out of the onions. Taste them again and they should be only a little salty now. Spread over the lightly oiled dough and bake. Sprinkle with a little salt while cooling.


I cooked the bread on a tray, and I placed the tray on a granite chopping board I use in the oven to replicate a real bakers oven.  As you can see it really helps cook the dough from beneath encouraging a browned and crisp base! (read more in my baguette post)

Any questions or comments feel free to ask below and I'll do my best in helping you recreate this AWESOME FOCACCIA!


My baguette post made it onto this weeks YeastSpotting ..... I wonder if this will be deemed worthy to appear next week?  check the site out for some awesome looking bread recipes!

Dylan


*my opinion, and you best believe it!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Week 5 & 6 at Tante Marie


Apologies for the lateness of this post but I was kept busy with preparing for my first practical exam at Tante Marie, which kept me from updating you on the last two weeks events.

Week 5 started with icing the dreaded Celebration Cake with cold fondant, a task that didn't go entirely smoothly but resulted in something which I am happy with knowing my skill level (-10) at these sorts of things.

Celebration Cake - covered in cold fondant

We also made up some Royal Icing and did a little piping practice, something which my perma-shaking hands are never going to cope with too well. Next step for the cake is to start decorating it... and that is where the real “fun” begins allegedly.

 My humble/feeble attempts at piping... this cake is not going to be pretty!

As if that wasn't enough piping, week 5 saw us make a Gâteau au chocolat... which... wait for it... had a delicate design of stars, shells and straight lines piped over and over again across the top :-(   Other dishes included Cabbage gratin, Filets de sole cubat, Warm honey and goats cheese salad, Poulet provençal, Turban d'Agen and a couple of others. The week also contained a couple of demos, a theory class, “The Meat Lecture and “The Herb Lecture”. I intend to post about the about the final two lectures mentioned in the easter break, so tune in then to see what these pics are all about....

A whole Lamb... minus innards.. head, fur... etc...

 
1/4 of a beef!  Hung for 5-6 weeks... get a load of that colouration!

Week 6 was a 4 day week what with half-term on Friday... yeah I said HALF-TERM mofos, Whoop Whooop! The week kicked off with a demo on Monday morning followed swiftly by some of our classes first practical test... the so called “Intermediate Exam” whereby one must cook a three course meal chosen by Tante Marie along with 8 bread rolls shaped into various...erm.... shapes!?!?! The exam is split over two days, a two hour session in the afternoon followed by a 9:30am start the following day, serving starters at 12:00, mains at 12:15 and deserts at 12:30.

On Monday and Tuesday I had to potwash for some of my fellow students doing their exam, before starting mine on Wednesday afternoon. My dishes comprised of Bread rolls, Kitchen garden soup, Garlic and herb crusted rack of lamb, Rosemary potatoes, Cabbage gratin, Carrots vichy and yes you guess it........ a god damn Gâteau au chocolat with all that damn piping!!!!

Anyway, all went OK... not brilliant by far. I was devastated with home my bread rolls came out, they had hardly proved even after nearly an hour over some hot water and when baked were covered in stretch marks and were pasty pale even though I had baked them for longer than required in a desperate attempt to get some colour on them... bloody old school gas ovens!

 From clockwise - Shite, Shite, Shite, Shite, Shite, Shite, Shite and finally...Shite

Of course the piping was not as bad as my first attempt in class the previous week, and although I was quite happy with it, I am fully aware that it would fall short of Mrs A's stringent criteria. The only other problem with the Gâteau was the fact it did not come out of the tine cleanly... again! Despite doing exactly as instructed and taking a solid 5mins to slowly and gently run a palette knife delicately around the edge of the sponge (as it again hadn't shrunk away from the sides as it is allegedly supposed to do, not that anyone else could achieve this... even when it was demo'ed to us!) a good chink was left welded to the oiled cake tin... very very annoyed!

Sooo... Lines not straight and gaps between shells and stars.. on the right side of the third line from the bottom you can see where my shakes really kicked in!!!

Saving graces were how well my lamb was cooked (in my humble opinion), the jus was under reduced as I was faced with the conundrum of serving well rested and hot meat with a under-reduced jus bang on time, or a great jus with cold and dry meat 5mins late. I went with the former option.
The veg dishes were good-ish... the potatoes stuck a little to the pan but were a massive improvement on the “mash with crispy bits” I served up in class when we first cooked them after they welded themselves to the pan. The Cabbage gratin was a revelation as I decided to actually weigh the cabbage I had shredded to ensure I had exactly what was required, beautiful.

The soup came out well... again a lot better than we had made in class mainly due to the fact we followed the recipe and only put 1litre of our carefully crafted veg stock into it... rather than what we did in class and just put ALL the stock... watering the final flavour down by a factor of a million. 
 
Over all I was happy ish, far from faultless and far from what I could achieve. I put myself under the kosh on the second day by remaking my bread rolls.... which I shouldn't have done as they came out even worse... I couldn't believe it! Here's a pic of what I thought was just an OK batch I made at home....

From bottom to top - Not bad, Not bad, Not bad, Not bad, Not bad, Shite, Shite and finally... Shite!

Compared to the two abominations I made in the exam this bread was amazing, despite the cottage loaf blowing its top, and the twist untwisting a little! If I had stayed with my original bread I would have had a nice 30mins to rectify some of the things that weren't great... alas coulda woulda shoulda dont get you very far.

You see, I don't see tests like this as an opportunity to show the teachers what I can do, but as a way of challenging myself to see what I can do. I know a lot of people wont either understand or agree with this, but that's the way it is for me. Yes I would like to get a great final mark for my time spent at Tante Marie, but I feel its more important for me to leave here with a greater idea of what I am, and what I am not capable of doing. I have a feeling that in the real world people are not going to be so interested in whether I got a Pass, Merit or Distinction on this course... but whether I can indeed knock out 500 canapés in the 4hrs before they are needed.

If from time to time you don't push yourself beyond your limits then how can you know where that limit is? And this is what I was thinking when I remade my bread. I didn't go down in flames, yet I didn't shower myself in glory. I guess we will just have to wait a few weeks for the budget lunch exam and see how far beyond my limits I go.....

Dylan






Sunday, 7 February 2010

Homemade Baguettes - Easy & Awesome


After hauling myself out of bed after the most enjoyable Sunday lay in I have had in the last six days, it was time to get up and bake some bread.  I decided upon making a “lean dough”, as in one that contains no fat and settled upon a nice quick recipe for Baguettes that I found and tried a while ago.

A quick note, I am using a granite chopping board to bake my bread on. I keep it in the oven and make sure it is really hot before putting any dough on it. The idea is that it replicates a proper bakers oven and starts to cook the dough from the bottom as soon as it touches it. You can pick these up quite cheap, I got mine from Argos for £7 reduced from £15 in a clearance sale. An alternative could be an upturned heavy bottom roasting tin. You can just place the dough into the oven on a cold baking tray but you will not get a consistent crust all around the bread, it will still be good eating though, just not spectacular!

Recipe
10g fresh yeast (half for dried)
280g (approx) water
482g strong flour
10g salt


Method

Sieve flour and salt into a large bowl.

Take the fresh yeast in one hand and a small handful of the flour in another. Rub both hands together as if trying to warm them on a cold day, crumbling the mix into the bowl containing the flour and salt.

Add the lukewarm water reserving a few tablespoons in case you don't require it all. Using a knife or the handle of a wooden spoon gently combine the ingredients together. When the mix looks like its almost formed add the remaining water if there is still some flour remaining at the bottom of the bowl.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for ten minutes. You will know when the dough is ready as it will have a smooth appearance and will spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. It is important not to take any shortcuts here as the kneading develops the gluten that will impact the texture of the finished bread.

Unproven dough

Place the dough back into the mixing bowl that has either had a light coating of oil or a sprinkle of flour (I prefer flour personally as I don't want a greasy dough), cover with a damp tea cloth and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. This could take 20mins in a very warm room or over an hour in a cooler spot. The dough will no longer be springy, you can make a 'belly-button' and the dough will hold the indentation.

The dough is now double the size and the gluten has relaxed and is no longer springy to the touch

Preheat oven to its maximum setting, French bakers ovens are a lot hotter than home ovens so we need to get as close as we can. Ensure the cooking stone or upturned tray is in place if using, and place an empty tray on the bottom of the oven... you will see why shortly.
Gently turn the dough out onto a floured surface and slap the dough a few times to remove any large packets of Co2 that have formed. Cut the dough in two and create a “backbone” in both pieces of the dough by following the technique below...



As you can see my technique is not up to scratch, but I have a feeling the bread will be OK, don't know why, I just do... ;-) I folded and pinched etc three times and after this the dough was elongated and more cylindrical.

After one go at shaping the dough and 'inserting the backbone'.. hmm more practice is needed!

This will help the dough have a nice round shape as a baguette should and not a flat bottom like a ciabatta.

Gently roll the dough to the desired length. If you are baking the bread on a conventional baking tray that is not heating in the oven, place the dough upon this, cover with a cloth and prove for 15-20mins in a warm place or until nearly doubled in size.

Shaped dough on floured tray ready to "slide" onto baking stone after further proving

If using a baking stone or similar, place the dough on the back of a floured upturned tray or chopping board, cover and leave to prove for 15-20mins in a warm place until nearly double in size.

To make a poppyseed baguette, beat an egg and lightly brush the dough, sprinkle with poppy seeds and then take a lame (bakers razor) or a slightly serrated knife (what I used) and quickly and confidently slash the bread seven times... I cant count so I only did six, mother will be cross. Of course you don't have to add the poppy seeds, just bake without the egg wash.

 Egg washed and poppy seed coated.. ready for the oven

Slide the dough quickly from the board or tray onto the hot baking stone in the oven, pour ¼ glass of water onto the baking tray at the bottom of the oven and quickly shut the door. The steam, strangely, helps to give baguettes its characteristic crust.

After 5-6mins open the oven to vent the steam, if there is still water on the tray remove it from the oven. Continue cooking for 6-10mins until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the underside. Leave to cool on a cooling rack and don't eat for at least 20mins!!! Hard to resist but the inside needs time to dry out a little.

Venting the steam from the oven, here you can see the granite chopping board I am using as a baking stone

To make the lovely looking 'Epi' you could have followed my pictures... had I taken any. Instead follow this video...



Make sure you do this either on the baking sheet you will cook it on, or on the board you will transfer it onto the stone with. Again with the stone, confidently slide the dough onto the stone with a good jerk.

Bake as per the baguette.



Let me know how you get on... because this is soooo easy you will be making it, won't you?!?!?!

Bon appetit!

Dylan

p.s. a great site for recipes involving yeast http://www.wildyeastblog.com/category/yeastspotting/