By Samuel Fromartz
This recipe may be intimidating, but, hey, who isn’t up for a challenge? Experienced home bakers will likely recognize the steps, which took time and patience to develop. I had been drawn to the baguette a decade ago, then gave up thinking it was impossible to reproduce in a home oven. But over the past couple of years I went back to it, tried different techniques and then finally arrived at a recipe I was happy with. To read more about that process - which led to an award winning baguette - read the essay I posted here.
Beginners will need to be patient—to start baking bread with this recipe is like jumping into calculus after third-grade math. So here’s a tip: Pick up Daniel Leader’s bread baking books, Richard Bertinet's Dough (the DVD on kneading is worth the price) or Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker's Apprentice or his more recent Artisan Breads Everyday and try their baguette recipes before plunging over the dark side.
Should you decide to skip the DIY apprenticeship and go directly to the recipe below, results may vary. This is a wet, slack dough that makes it a challenge to shape. If you end up with something that looks like a mutant flat bread, don’t despair. Scarf it up—the rich flavor, bubbly internal crumb, and crisp crust will likely surprise you, even if does not approach the Platonic ideal of a Parisian baguette. Try and try again to get it right. And remember, it's all in the technique, which you will need to practice and play with, admitting defeat at times. The recipe itself is secondary.
And welcome visitors from Wild Yeast Blog's yeastspotting.
- Digital scale with gram measurements (read weighing rant)
- Plastic bin or bowl
- Dough scraper
- Baking stone
- Rimmed cookie sheet or cast iron frying pan
- Four kitchen towels
- Parchment paper or couche
- Razor blade
- Cutting board
- Cooling rack
Makes four baguettes
- 90 grams sourdough starter, 100-percent hydration, made with equal parts of water and flour by weight, fermented for 7 to 10 hours. To make this starter, I use 25 grams ripe and active sourdough, 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. After it ferments, I then use 90 grams of it in the bread and refresh the rest for future doughs. (I've also posted a video here that explains how to make sourdough).
- 420 grams water
- 590 grams flour (King Arthur Organic All Purpose Flour, Whole Foods 365 brand Organic All Purpose Flour or King Arthur All Purpose Flour are ideal, though King Arthur Bread Flour might be easier for a beginner)
- 10 grams whole wheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat Flour)
- 13 grams sea salt
- 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast (such as SAF Instant Yeast), though I cut this back to 1 teaspoon in the summer.
- Olive oil to grease bowl
- Cornmeal or semolina to dust cutting board
Pour starter and yeast into bowl and add water, mixing until the starter breaks up a bit.
Add flours and salt and mix for a couple of minutes. The dough will be heavy and shaggy. Let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes, covered with plastic (I put a plastic tray over my bowl).
Put a little olive oil in your palm and oil the counter so it has a very thin sheen of oil on it. The oil should keep the dough from sticking. Do not flour the counter. (This tip on oiling comes from Dan Lepard.)
Use a scraper to move dough onto the counter and begin to knead by stretching and folding dough, trying to use your finger tips. Tip: Click here to see a kneading video by Richard Bertinet on Gourmet.com, though he is demonstrating on a sweet dough.
After kneading for 5 minutes, scrape mass into a clean bowl or plastic bin. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
Oil the counter again if necessary and remove dough to counter. Stretch it until 1-inch thick then fold top and bottom in thirds like a letter. Do the same left to right. Click here for the Wild Yeast blog video of this technique.
Put in bin, cover, let dough rest 20 minutes.
Remove from bin, fold again, and put back in covered bin for 20 minutes.
Remove from bin, fold again for the third and final time. Clean bin, oil lightly (with 2 tsp olive oil), and put dough back inside. Cover and place in refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
Put baking stone in middle of oven. Place a thick rimmed cookie sheet or cast iron pan on oven floor or lower shelf. Preheat oven to 470F (245 C).
Put a little olive oil in your palm and oil a 20-by-20 inch (1/2-by-1/2 meter) section of the counter.
Then remove dough from container. Cut dough in half. Put half back in container and into refrigerator.
Cut dough into two rectangular pieces (about 250 grams each) and gently stretch into rectangles 5-by-7 inches (13-by-18 cm) with the long edge facing you.
Be careful not to press and destroy all the bubbles inside the dough.
Cover with light towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
While dough is resting, cut parchment paper large enough to fit your baking stone. Dust paper with flour. Roll up 3 kitchen towels tightly. Set aside. (Or if you have a couche, dust it lightly with flour).
Shape dough into a log by folding top and bottom of rectangle toward middle and gently sealing the seam with thumb. Then fold top to meet the bottom and seal seam. You should have a log about 1.5 to 2 inches thick (4 to 5 cm). Gently roll and stretch into a 14-inch loaf (36 cm) or just under the size of your baking stone. Don’t worry if it’s uneven. Here's a good video of the technique, along with scoring the loaf.
Place each loaf on parchment paper about six inches apart, seam side down. Place one rolled up towel underneath the paper between the loaves and one under each other edge, supporting their shape. Tip: Leader describes this in his book. (Or place on couche, with loose pleats between the baguettes).
Cover with light kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Put 2/3 cup water in measuring cup. (I boil the water).
Remove towels from under the parchment paper and carefully move the paper with the loaves onto a flour-dusted overturned cookie sheet or cutting board. Dust top of loaves very lightly with flour. (If you used a couche, carefully lift loaves with a bench scraper and place on parchment paper on a cutting board). Use a bench scraper to gently adjust the loaves and straighten them out.
Make four cuts on the top of the loaf with a razor blade, 1/4-inch deep, running lengthwise on the dough. A swift slash at a sharp 20-degree angle works best (see previously mentioned video).
Take cutting board and slide parchment paper with baguettes onto hot baking stone. Shut oven door. Open door, and carefully pour 2/3 cup water onto cookie sheet or cast iron pan. Be very careful if using boiling water. Shut door. Do not open the oven again while baking.
Check baguettes after 18 to 20 minutes. They should be dark brown and crusty. If pale, continue baking for 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes on rack before eating. They are best eaten within 6 hours.
While baguettes are baking, form the remaining dough into loaves or leave for up to 24 hours and make fresh loaves the following day.
Note: I have modified this recipe slightly since it was first published. There are also many more tips in the comments to this post and I encourage others to post their modifications.