There are few things in this world that are better than a fresh, crusty French baguette smeared with salty butter. I’ve learned to bake many breads in my kitchen, which really makes me proud – because dough, of any variety, was something that terrified me for a long time. Even once I was confident in my bread making skills, baguettes always just seemed out of my league.

A couple of weeks ago I started binge-watching The Great British Bake-Off, and the baguette episode piqued my interest. Santa had brought me a baker’s couche for Christmas – that I’m ashamed to admit was still setting in it’s package. I resolved to kick my fears to the curb and give it a go – you’ll never tackle anything new if you don’t at least try!

I’d envisioned it to be very time consuming and tedious, with a bunch of stipulations and fancy equipment needed. And I certainly never thought that if I ever did have the nerve to try it, that they’d turn out anything like a presentable baguette…

Well, I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded and incorrect on pretty much all of those fronts. Sure, the whole process does take a whole day – as in 24 hours. You start off making a “poolish” overnight , which is pretty much just a fancy word for a starter. The next day, that starter is then dumped into the other ingredients to make the dough, which has a couple rises ahead of itself, as well as shaping and final proofing – before being put in the oven.

I used the same process when I made Italian Bread – it’s what gives bread that chewy and crunchy exterior. It’s definitely worth the extra time while you sleep!

I made my starter on Friday afternoon, and by Saturday afternoon I was munching on the most flavorful and crispy baguette I’ve had in my life! The only special equipment you need is a couche to help the baguettes retain their shape while they rise. They’re relatively cheap (around $20), but you can totally use a flour sack dish towel instead. Word to King Arthur Flour for another winning recipe!

Crispy French Baguettes

For the poolish:
1/2 cup cool water
1/16 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the dough:
1 tsp tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup + 2 Tbsp lukewarm water
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt

To make the starter: Mix everything together to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well.

To make the dough: Mix and knead everything together — by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. If you’re using a stand mixer, knead for about 4 minutes on medium-low speed (speed 2 on a KitchenAid); the finished dough should stick a bit at the bottom of the bowl.

Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-sized bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it, folding the edges into the center, and turning it over after 1 hour. Let rise additional 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Gently deflate it, and divide it into three equal pieces.

Round each piece of dough into a rough ball by pulling the edges into the center. Cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes (up to 1 hour).

Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough slightly then fold it nearly (but not quite) in half, sealing the edges with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough around, and repeat: fold, then flatten. Repeat this whole process again; the dough should have started to elongate itself. Click here for a video.

With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 16″ log. Taper each end of the log slightly to create the baguette’s typical “pointy” end.

Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans; or into the folds of a heavily floured cotton dish towel (or couche). Cover them with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise until they’re slightly puffy. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature (about 68°F).

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F with a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, or on the lowest rack. If you’re using a baking stone, place it on a middle rack. Start to heat 1 1/2 cups water to boiling.

If your baguettes have risen in a dish towel or couche, gently roll them (seam side down) onto a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet. If you plan on baking them on a baking stone, roll them onto a piece of parchment, and lift the parchment onto a baker’s peel. Using a baker’s lame (a special curved blade) or a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three to five long lengthwise slashes in each baguette.

Load the baguettes into the oven. If you’re baking on a stone, use a baker’s peel to transfer the baguettes, parchment and all, onto the hot stone. Carefully pour the boiling water into the cast iron pan, and quickly shut the oven door.

Bake the baguettes — on the pan, or on a stone — for 24 to 28 minutes, or until they’re a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2″, and allow the baguettes to cool completely in the oven, until both baguettes and oven are at room temperature.

Store any leftover baguettes in a paper bag overnight; freeze for longer storage. Thaw and reheat just before serving.

Source: King Arthur Flour

Did you guys know that March 9th is National Crab Day? It’s true. So, while I’m counting down the days until I’ll be taking the back road to Saxis to buy a bushel of #1’s right off the boat, we’re not quite there yet. Nevertheless,I still wanted to mark the occasion here on the blog by sharing some crab-centric recipe recipe with you guys.

Now, it’s a well known fact that folks here on the Eastern Shore will put Old Bay on just about darned near anything and everything. In fact, I think it’s probably a part of my blood content at this point in my life. My dad had me dipping crabs in vinegar spiked with Old Bay as far back as I can remember, probably even before I started on solid foods. Heh. And, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Whether it’s a more traditional application of the seasoning – like steamed blue crabs or succulent steamed shrimp. To something a little more unconventional- like sprinkled on top of a creamy potato salad or a Chesapeake Bloody Mary. Or maybe by adding a subtle spicy twist to a batch of your homemade caramel corn…

I happen to adore salty and sweet combos to begin with. But add in a little spicy kick with a few savory notes going on (I’m looking at you celery seed),  and you really have something quite phenomenal going on.

I’m going to be making batches of this all summer long to take out on the boat with us for our fishing trips and beach days. It stays good for a few weeks if kept fresh in an airtight container, not that it will last that long. Handy to have on hand!

There is nothing that says “comfort food” more than a pot of beans bubbling on the stove. I got this recipe a couple of years ago from my friend and part-time neighbor Nancy, I’ve mentioned them before. We met at this bloggers event hosted by Maryland Tourism, and it turned out they have a vacation house next door here on Chincoteague, literally. It’s a small world after all.

Nancy’s husband Len and their daughter Kelsey own and operate Louthan Distilling in Baltimore, who offer amazing locally distilled whiskey and bourbon. Needless to say, we became fast friends, and usually will get together for a potluck type situation when they are down. I always ask that Nancy bring these beans when we do…

Pintos, tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices are simmered in a beer broth for a couple of hours, to make for a flavorful and tender bean – that lends itself great for burritos, or tacos, or on top of cornbread. Also great mashed up and served refried. If you don’t have the time to spare, you can make them in under an hour (from dried state) in the Instant Pot – you’ll find directions for that included with the regular recipe below.

A hefty dose of cilantro stirred in at the end, and a pint of beer on the side – and you’re good to go. Speaking of beer and locally crafted goodness, have you guys heard that we now have a brewery here on Chincoteague Island? The first on the the Eastern Shore of Virginia. W00t!  I know, I know – so exciting!

Black Narrows Brewing Company opened their doors at the end of December, and we couldn’t be happier that they’re here. It’s run by a wonderful family, they use local ingredients, and their beer is epic. If you’re visiting the island make sure to stop by and see them on Chicken City Road – right behind the Brant.

Enjoy a pint, and get a yourself growler (or three!) to bring home. The Louthans are heading into town this weekend actually, and I can’t wait to get up there with them and enjoy a pint. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Have you guys ever heard the song “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson? We’re talking old school here, kids. If you haven’t, listen to it – it’s such a fun song. A song that I can’t help but singing out loud when I’m making mixing these babies up. My apologies in advance, it’ll be stuck in your head for a week! One of the lyrics is “put the lime in the coconut and you’ll feel better”… Harry was onto something – these little bites are a true taste of summer days, something that I’ve desperately been needing a dose of lately.

Macaroons are kind of an old fashioned sweet made with egg whites and shredded coconut. They’re great, because they’re really adaptable to switching up with different flavor combinations. But to be honest, you’re not going to want to look any further than the addition of the fresh zesty lime…

I got the recipe from my friends at Main Street Shop & Coffeehouse, who offer them in the afternoons when they’re open in season. I’m missing so many things now that everything is closed for the winter here on Chincoteague Island. Spring can’t come soon enough, y’all.

These macs couldn’t be easier to whip together, using just a few simple ingredients. Since they don’t have a bunch of butter, or oil, or egg yolks – they’re not too bad on the waistline. Also gluten-free for all you folks looking out for that.

After baking until golden brown, I let them cool and then give a nice drizzle of dark chocolate. They freeze beautifully, it’s nice to have a few on hand to package up as a little treat for someone you love. This recipe makes a dozen, so if I’m baking for a crowd I’ll often double it. They always fly out the door at bake sales! 

Source: recipe adapted from Martha Stewart via my baking friend Karen