Baguette Pieces

I made baguettes for the first time last year, but they go stale so quickly and it's really hard to freeze them. They're good for a nice treat, or if there are a lot of people around. I've been trying to stock D up for a week home alone, so that didn't really make sense.

They look like mini loaves of bread!
Instead, I decided to make baguette pieces, like I'd had at the Cheeseboard (also known for their incredible pizza). I have no idea how they get the pseudo-square shape to their baguette pieces that's just perfect for sandwiches. Mine turned out round and very small, but they're perfect for two small sandwiches.

To make them, I just took my favorite baguette recipe and split the dough into rolls instead of loaves. The shaping method is a little tricky and took me a while to get right (I used it to make my homemade bagels, too!), but it makes really nice round rolls.

I forgot to slash these rolls as well but they seemed to turn out just fine anyways. D said some of them were a bit dense, but many of them split and developed gorgeous crusty ears all on their own. I would suggest slashing them, if you remember. Don't worry if you forget, though!

Before making these, I recommend testing the seal on your oven. You have to steam bread to get it crusty and if your oven doesn't seal well, it won't work. Do this by heating the oven up and either tossing cold water onto the oven floor or tossing it onto a preheated pan. Close the oven door immediately and wait five minutes.

If you open the door after five minutes and it feels like a summer day in New York City (aka a blast of steam hits your face) then you're good. If it's dry as an Arizona summer day, look at the notes at the bottom for alternate steaming methods.

The directions below don't require a stand mixer. If you have one, feel free to use it; you probably won't need to knead the dough for as long.

Total time:
30 minutes to make the dough
1.5-2 hour rise
15 minutes shaping
30-45 minute rise
30 minute bake
= 3.25-4 hours total time, 50 minutes active time

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Baguette Pieces
makes 16 small pieces
adapted from Steamy Kitchen

4.5c bread flour
2t instant yeast
2t salt
1.5c warm water (approximately 110°F)

1. Put 4c of the flour in a large mixing bowl, and put the yeast on one side and the salt on the other. (Salt kills yeast, so keep them separate!)
2. Pour the water into the mixing bowl and stir the ingredients together with a fork until you get a shaggy, wet blob in the middle and lots of dry flour about the bowl.
3. Start kneading in the bowl by folding the dough in half, pressing down with the heel of your hand, rotating a quarter turn and repeating. Use one hand to hold the bowl and the other to knead.
4. Knead for 5-7 minutes (feel free to take quick breaks if your arms get tired), or until the dough starts to come together into a single mass.
5. Turn the dough out onto the countertop and go wash out your bowl. The dough needs to rest and you'll need the clean bowl again briefly. (Also take this opportunity to wash your probably incredibly dirty hands.)
6. Once your bowl is washed, return to your dough. Place the remaining 0.25c of flour nearby. Begin kneading again. If the dough sticks to your hands, add a tablespoon or two of flour. Knead for an additional 7-10 minutes, or until the dough is really smooth and shiny. You should be able to stretch it really thin without it ripping. (If it rips while you're stretching it, add a few drops of water and continue to knead.)
7. When your dough is smooth and stretchy, spritz your bowl with spray oil, place the dough in the bowl and spritz the top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours.
8. Prep a baking tray (or use a pizza peel) by flipping it upside down and putting a piece of parchment paper on it. Spray the parchment paper with spray oil.
9. After the rise, use a serrated knife to cut the dough in half, and then cut each half into 8 pieces.
10. Wipe a countertop totally clean. Take one piece of dough and press it into the countertop with the heel of your hand. Move your hand in a circular motion parallel to the countertop (counter clockwise if you're right-handed, clockwise if you're left-handed.) The dough should form a neat little ball in your fingers. If it doesn't, try again, and/or try a stickier countertop. It takes some practice.
11. Place the dough roll on the baking tray. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces, placing the rolls 1.5-2 inches apart on your baking tray.
12. Preheat your oven to 450°F, and place a second baking tray upside down in the oven. (This is not for the steaming, this is to bake on; if you want one to steam on, you'll need a third vessel.)
13. Let the dough rise/oven preheat for another 30-45 minutes, or until the oven is really hot.
14. Right before you bake, get a cup of very cold water ready next to the oven. Then slash the tops of your mini-loaves.
15. Pull out the preheated baking tray and put it next to your rising tray. Pull the parchment paper onto the preheated tray, place the tray into the oven, and pour your water onto the oven floor/other preheated vessel. Close the oven door immediately.
16. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the loaves are a dark brown. (Rotate halfway through.) Seriously, leave them in as long as possible, until bits are starting to burn in places.
17. Let these cool completely before digging in. Yum!
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- If your oven doesn't hold steam well, that sucks. Your bread will probably never get the delicious, shiny crackly crust that it would otherwise. BUT, you can still make some pretty incredible bread.. it just won't be quite as pretty. A couple of options:

  • Use a spray bottle and mist the tops of your bread every minute or so for the first 10 minutes of baking. If you do this, preheat the oven to 500°F and still start with the initial steam--you'll just need to replenish the steam until the 'oven spring' has finished.
  • Bake your bread in a dutch oven. (I'd suggest fewer, larger loaves if you're doing this.. don't know how you'd transfer them with smaller loaves.) Preheat the dutch oven like you would your baking tray. Throw in a half cup of water, and then put the loaves into the dutch oven (preferably not touching). Close the lid and put it back in the oven. 10 minutes into baking, remove the lid.
  • Use a roasting pan filled with water. This method isn't great, but it'll do, especially if you're worried about steam burns. When you're preheating the oven, just put a pan with high-ish sides in there with about a half inch of water in the bottom.
None of these have worked as well for me, but they'll all give you crispier crust. If your oven doesn't seal well, don't expect the bread to look as pretty, though.

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