Originally uploaded by chifoodies

I haven’t been baking for a while (or blogging for that matter) for various reasons, mostly because I have been working too much these last few months. Also, I had reached a plateau with my baking – I just wasn’t happy with how my breads were turning out.

Inspired by the holidays and a couple of resources that I recently found, I baked up some baguettes for Christmas. Happily, I had an excellent result. Still not perfect, but such an improvement upon what I had been baking before that I know I can get it right.

Over on The Fresh Loaf, I found a great List of Tips for Better French Bread. The thing that finally struck me is that I can’t be afraid to get my hands dirty (duh). I can’t be squeemish about working with wet, sticky dough. In fact, it is moisture that makes the loaf tender on the inside, and crispy on the outside. Also, I have to crank the oven as high as I can, and spray the oven several times throughout the baking to get some nice steam going.

Voila, I turned out two beautiful (if I do say so), crispy, and tender-in-the-middle loaves. Also, the tips for autolysing and folding (as opposed to punching down and kneeding) I think made a huge difference in improving my crumb, though I still have to practice.

Another new inspiration: A recipe for Sour Dough English Muffins that could not have been easier, but was still impressive. We had home-made English muffins for our Christmas breakfast! Pretty darn cool.

Since we were just lamenting with some friends about how hard it is to find decent bread in Chicago, I am more determine than ever to master this art. Now I just need to acquire that pizza stone. Mmmhmm.