I dreamed a dream in times gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
… But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
… they tear your hope apart
… they turn your dream to shame
I Dreamed a Dream, Les Miserable
Edison, New Jersey
January 5th, 2021
A baguette costs 2 dollars. An unnecessary 3 dollars if ordered from Whole Foods and, if it’s organic, god help you. They’ll keep it at 3 dollars but make the baguette way smaller so the unit price skyrockets. But I already digress.
The point is: a baguette can be cheap.
And since it can be cheap, the idea of making a baguette at home always seemed silly. I could always just buy one if I wanted one.
Also, honestly, it just looks like a long loaf of bread with a fancy french name. Far more rewarding to make a cake or some kind of fancy pastry. Right?
I’m pontificating about this because, since covid, I feel most of America is divided. Divided into two main categories: those of us who doom scroll through the internet reading awful news. Sad but necessary to stay informed. But there is a second group, those of us who bake. So many of us who know so little about baking, suddenly baking all kinds of shit.
I am Team Baking and as such have built my covid life around avoiding political stuff. Facebook, Twitter, and even my own YouTube algorithm tries to pull me into politics, and I try my best to filter it all out. Some days I’m less successful than others.
But, ooh, show me how Josh Weissman made those churros or how Alex No-Last-Name perfected that mozzarella ball, and I’m all in.
These are my tribe.
And earlier today, another trusted YouTube personality changed my mind about baguettes. A 24-36 hour recipe seems silly for just some bread and the steps were ridiculous. But there was something about his sense of accomplishment that felt intoxicating. And when the bread cracked open and those beautiful holes showed up imperfectly on the inside, I was hooked.
I planned it all out so that my wife and I could eat the baguette with cheese, olive oil, and balsamic at exactly 730pm the next day.
I took over the entire kitchen to grind the flour and make something called poolish, a large amount of starter that’s 1:1 flour to water with just a pinch of yeast. And I left it out and went to bed. 18 hours until I could begin the next step, at 3 pm on January 6th.
“What is going on?!?!” I got a text from my mom with multiple question marks and exclamations. She often sends me texts like “hey please call me.” with the dreaded period at the end that sends my heart racing. On prior occasions, I’d call her back, trying to interpret that period to figure out if it means someone’s death, injury, cancer, or some other period-worthy tragedy.
And, usually she’s oblivious and just wants to know what I had for lunch. So, just this once and just this time, I avoided this text.
I put the phone down and continued to listen to the many steps of how to incorporate the poolish into next addition of flour and water.
According to the timestamp I’d see later, “My god they’re outside the capitol” was written somewhere between the first kneading and the first proofing of the dough.
During the second proofing, I saw the flurry of texts culminating in “they’ve gotten in.”
I turned on the Apple TV. My precious Youtube channel, that I’d trained like a young Siddhartha to avoid all politics, didn’t stand a chance. It was everywhere. I found the first one I could that said “LIVE” in all caps.
Melissa rushed to the tv. She’s different than I am. When she feels something, it’s abundantly clear. With the ease of a tap being turned on, her face contorted and flowed tears. She looked at me and asked helplessly “why are they doing this?”
I tried my best to answer. And as I watched a flurry of angry words, hatred, and Trump come out of my mouth, I realized that I was coming up to a number of critical moments in my baguette’s journey. But how could that possibly matter now? To try to make bread at a time like this? All the next steps in my head felt like flour being poured into too much water, slowly dissipating away and fading from memory.
I could feel myself becoming the person I’d hoped to avoid, rejoining a collective consciousness I wanted no part of. And that is how the next 5 hours went. Glued to the TV, watching one horror after another.
My wife went to sleep around 1030pm, exhausted. So it was official, we wouldn’t be having the baguette together tonight. I continued to watch the miserables foment.
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
But right around 11pm, something strange happened. The hatred was cast out and a decision was made to continue the vote. I don’t think anyone would have judged these congresspeople if they voted the next day. But they gritted their collective teeth and continued forward.
Something stirred in me. It made no sense, but I returned to my dough that I’d forgotten to throw away. Slapped it once. Rotated 90 degrees. Twice. And began forming the shapes. 2 hours later, the oven was preheated to 465 and I put the dough in and threw two tablespoons of water onto a heated tray. Immediately a mass amount of steam erupted and began to rise the bread quickly.
After the rise, I opened the door, removed the steam tray and aired out the moisture from the oven. This phase crusts the bread.
I peeked into the bedroom to see if Melissa was awake. And maybe it was the smell of warm bread, maybe it was our cosmic connection, or perhaps it was the smoke alarm that had gone off multiple times, but she was awake and knew why I had opened the door.
Look, I’m no Jean Valjean. There are very important reasons to demand bread and 3am in an apartment already filled with food is not one of them. But this night felt imperative. And this bread felt like it absolutely needed to be made.
This night had awoken the amateur, soft-ass breadmakers like me.
Everything about this day told me this bread was going to taste awful. Even the crust around it looked hard. I handed it to my wife to break. The crack rang through the apartment and then puffs of steam billowed out. We opened it up. I saw those beautiful holes. I started crying.
It’s an interesting thing, baguettes. Their soft insides are not soft because you take them out of the oven early. They are soft because they are hard on the outside. The hard part protects and encourages the inside to be softer and softer.
And, if you know what’s good for you, don’t you dare tread on them.