Joan Marie Co.

Creating Sophisticated Utility as a Culinary Photographer

French Onion Soup, Baguettes and Instagram

Joan Marie4 Comments

Today is sunny but extremely cold here in Midwest Wisconsin....perfect conditions to spend a day puttering in the kitchen making French Onion soup and Baguettes.  With the stove simmering a pot of soup and the oven baking baguettes, the house smells so good and feels warm and cozy....

My French Onion soup recipe varies each time I make it but starts with caramelizing 5 large onions sliced thin in butter...

 ....a splash of red wine, thyme, and beef broth are added next.  Simple but delicious when it has all day to incorporate the flavors....  

While the soup is happily bubbling away, the baguette dough prep begins...

This time I tried a new technique with my baguette dough.  Using bread flour for a chewier texture, I made a "poolish" or starter the night before.  This is very quick prep step but I feel makes a delicious difference.  It starts with a cup of flour, a cup of room temperature water, and a very small, teeny tiny pinch of yeast.  I mix this in a glass measuring cup and sealed in plastic wrap so I can peek at the bubbly progress.  This is left alone for at least 12-24 hours and will be added to the dough ingredients during the mixing step....

There are a million baguette recipes and each has their own technique for the perfect outcome.  Since I love to experiment with yeast dough, I change the ingredients and process almost each time.  Baguettes require a good portion of the afternoon stretching and folding the dough about every 45 minutes - I worked my dough 4 times for this batch.  This dough is sticky in the beginning but as the stretching and folding continue, the gluten formation becomes so evident when the dough becomes soft, springy, and so silky feeling.  The trick is not to add too much flour during this process but to be patient with each step.

I would like to suggest a seriously useful and fun kitchen tool that if you haven't tried it, you should.  It is a Danish Dough Whisk and since I love to mix by hand, this little crazy looking gadget is my favorite especially when working with a heavier sticky dough.  I found mine on Amazon but there are many other places to seek out as well.  What a fun and unique stocking stuffer or secret Santa gift this would be!

The shaping of the baguettes is a formal process as well.  After watching at least a hundred YouTube videos, I paid special attention to the shaping and rolling techniques for the ideal shape.  I can see why making these is an art form and notes were being taken on things I will do differently next time.  

Another baking "tool" next on my list is a linen cloche - this cloth made of a heavy linen and is perfect for allowing your formed baguettes to rest one final time before transferring to the oven.

I let the dough rest for approximately 45 minutes in between the stretch and folds....

Rolling and shaping a baguette is also a process but worth learning and practicing the steps.  

Once ready for the oven, a VITAL step is slashing the baguette.  I had no idea how to do this properly and how the right cut allows for the perfect "ear" when baking but again, YouTube came to the rescue.  

The most important lesson I learned is that the slashes are almost vertical with a slight overlap in the middle third of the dough.  It was explained that the typical angled cross slashing is wrong as it creates bulges in the loaf.  Google "baguette slashing" and you will find great resources for learning this technique.  A "lahm" is also on my wish list....

These un-slashed baguettes are not the prettiest and my shaping could use some help but then again, it gives me an excuse to try again right?

Baguettes enjoy a steamy environment when being baked.  Again, a hundred ways to do this but for my purposes, I simply placed a ceramic pie plate of water on the lowest oven rack when I began the preheat step to 400°.  By the time the baguettes went in the oven, the moisture created was perfect.  If you need to add more water to the chosen container, do so before putting the baguettes in and give it about 10 minutes to build the steam back up again.  There are most likely better ways to do this, such as a pre-heated cast iron pan, etc. but this seemed the easiest on the first try.  

Although not perfect, we believe they tasted wonderful.  Very flavorful with a cripsy crust and chewy/airy center.  After slicing several generous pieces, I toasted them (both sides) under the broiler.  Next I ladled each crock about 2/3 full of soup, topped with two slices (or three....) of the toasted bread, covered in mozzarella and back under broiler to brown...

All in all it was a successful day of experimenting....the house did not burn down, the smoke alarms did not go off and Mike literally gobbled his down (French Onion is one of his favorites).  I had to agree that the whole day cooking and baking process was worth every minute.

My pictures in this post look different than normal for a reason....again, another practice session.  Lately, using my iPhone for quick shots has been intriguing.  As others have said, "it is the camera you ALWAYS have with you...PRACTICE with it every chance you get!" Considering everything that was going on in the kitchen, I didn't want to take the time to fully "set up and stage" a food shot...that will be next in the plans.  For now, I wanted to get used to using my iPhone camera more often and have been utilizing the powers of "new to me" Instagram!  I am also trying to learn the features of Snapseed for editing down the road.  If you have suggestions on iPhone photo editing apps, I would appreciate your thoughts as I am not tied to any one in particular at the moment.

I have found many familiar blogland faces and friends as well as new talented acquaintances  on Instagram so I see this becoming a fun branch of my love of photography.  I am just going to "put it out there" on Instagram in terms of iPhone images, learning, mistakes, etc. as I hope to use this as a gauge of photography growth.

Please take a peek at my Instagram @joanmariecompany and follow along!  This is going to be an area of iPhone focus over the next several months.  There are so many out there making magic with their iPhones and I am going to strive to be one of them...all starts with a first step!  Please please please share your words of wisdom or Instagram experiences as I start my own Instagram journey - I would LOVE to hear from you!!

So with that, now comes my least favorite part of spending a day in the kitchen....the dishes.  I create a mountain of dishes to clean when I cook!

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend and are enjoying the fast ride to the holidays.  It is coming up quick and will be here before we know it!

Until next time....Wishing You Well