Monday, January 30, 2012

Baguette with Dried Rosemary

For years, I had a giant rosemary plant growing in front of my office window. Its fragrant smell on a hot summer day perfumed the air and often transported me (mentally, at least) back to the Mediterranean where rosemary grows wild. Although it somehow survived for several years despite our very cold winters, last year’s sub-zero temperatures finally killed it. I was forced to start over this summer with a new plant. The up-side of this is that the needles on the younger plant are much smaller and more tender, but I miss the look and scent of the old plant.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a perennial evergreen that will grow in most places in the United States. In the right climates, it can grow into a large shrub. Since it’s a Mediterranean plant, it’s no surprise that it prefers sunshine. If you live in a northern state or in an area with cold winters, you may need to protect the plant over the winter, or grow it in pots that you can bring inside to protect from the cold.
Every summer before the rosemary blooms, we cut the sprigs and hang them to dry. We store them in sealed glass jars and crush them just before use. Although we use whole rosemary for many meats, they can be tough (they are needles, after all, and not leaves), so it’s best to crush or powder them before adding to several dishes, but particularly biscuits, muffins, and other breads. A coffee grinder is our tool of choice to convert the tough needles into smaller, more tender pieces. Rosemary is indispensable if you’re cooking lamb, but it also adds flavor to other meats (it’s surprising great in meatloaf), chicken and other poultry, fish, eggs, soups, vegetables (including fresh beans, dried beans, broccoli, parsnips, peas, potatoes, and turnips), even salads, pasta, and breads. Here's a recipe for a fragrant baguette with rosemary. Makes 2 loaves.

1-3/4 cup lukewarm water
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast or instant yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground or crushed dried rosemary

  • Place the lukewarm water in a large bowl, add the yeast and 1-1/2 cups flour. Use a whisk to stir the ingredients until all of the flour is combined; cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 2-3 hours. This “sponge” step allows the yeast to grow before you add the salt, which would inhibit the yeast's growth (but helps give the bread a good crust and a delicious taste).
  • Sprinkle in the salt and gradually add the remaining flour and rosemary, stirring until the flour has been incorporated.
  • Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 5 minutes. Sprinkle more flour on the board if the dough is too sticky. A good way to tell if you have kneaded the dough long enough is to poke your fingers into the dough, then remove them. If the hole quickly fills up then you have sufficiently developed the gluten in the dough and can move to the next step.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the dough has doubled in size.
  • Using your fist, punch the dough down.
  • Cover and let rise again.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured board and divide in half.
  • Shape each half into a long “log” approximately 15-18 inches and place in greased baguette pans.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about an hour or so (they will not quite double in size).
  • Before the bread is ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500°F. When the dough has risen, place the pans in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 450°F. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the underside of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers.
  • Note: To get the crispy, crunchy crust shown in the top photo, I placed a pan of water in the oven before preheating and also brushed the top crust of each loaf with water just before baking.

The next photo shows what the bread looks like without the water brushing or water pan.

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