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To The Point

February 12, 2010

I usually buy my baguettes at The Breadsmith, just down the street from my St. Paul apartment.  They’re fresh, crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside.  They’re definitely not the best baguettes.  A visiting parisian would probably turn up their nose and le sigh.  But, most importantly, they’re consistent.  And, with a quick shot in a hot oven, any developing chewiness on the crust turns crisp while the inside stays soft – perfect for soaking up the juices from a pot of mussels or holding a smear of good butter.  Breadsmith baguettes are my utility baguette, my hatchback, my leatherman of locally baked goods.  But, as luck would have it, any multi-tool never has the right tool at the right time.  Likewise, my utility baguettes always lacked one thing: pointed ends.

Here’s a brief, and perhaps overly cynical, culinary historical regarding the shape of baguettes:  At some point, a marketing savvy baker found that it was profitable to round, or tuck, the ends of baguettes to maximize the amount of soft and chewy insides in the interest customers who didn’t like the flavor of bread crusts.  You probably know a few of these people today.  They hold up the line at a sandwich shop asking the poor guy behind the counter to cut the “icky” crusts off their turkey (hold the tomato) sandwiches.  They drive RAV4s and you probably wouldn’t count on them for a fun night on the town.  I may sound pretentious and generalizing, but I promise you that they’re all very bad people.

Here’s the thing.  Crust, when done well, is good.  It’s really good.  I don’t blame you if your dislike for crust is based on a flavor memory of Wonderbread from when you were four years old.  Really, I wouldn’t eat the stuff myself.  But honestly? Get over it.  The crust of a lovingly made piece of bread is a thing of greatness.  You can taste and smell the roasted flour and and the sweetness of  the sugars that develop in the baking process.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I walked into the bakery section of Whole Foods tonight.  I like to squeeze the ends of a couple baguettes through their bags, just enough to feel a crack, to check how crusty they are.  Even if I’m not planning on buying one, I’ll take note for the next time I’m shopping for bread.  I felt like I’d struck gold to find that the ends were pointed. I grabbed one and asked if they’d recently changed bakers, to which the girl behind the counter confirmed they had.  So, I drove home, snapped a few pictures of the baguette, and tore off the point and ate it a smear of good softened butter.  The point of crust was a delicious concentration of roasted flavors.  Sadly, the crumb (the soft inner part of the baguette) was pretty poor.  I found it to be dense and overly fermented.  I’m guessing that this is due to a heavy use of a starter, dough from the previous day used to sour breads like sourdough, and too short of a time kneading the dough.  This prevents glutens from developing, which allow air bubbles to form and bake into a soft web of crumb.  In an effort to waste as little as possible, I’ll probably turn the rest into breadcrumbs or duck fat(!) croutons.

Duck Fat Croutons

Ingredients:

1 leftover baguette, or loaf of good bread

1 stick butter

1/4lb rendered duck fat (available at good butchers like Clancey’s)

1 tsp thyme

Kosher salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 deg F.  Dice lefrover bread with a serrated knife, taking care to cut the croutons down to equal sizes.  Meanwhile, melt down butter and duck fat. Add thyme to the warm fats to infuse.  Combine diced bread and fats in a large bowl with a generous amount of kosher salt and black pepper.  Stir to combine.  The bread dice should look wet as they’ll absorb the fats.  Spread the croutons on a sheet tray lined with silpat and bake for 15-20 minutes or until dark golden brown. Take care to shake the sheet tray and ensure even browning.

Recipe Copyright 2010 Shaun Liboon


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