Bread, when made well, is one of my favorite foods. As a kid, we would get these amazing baguettes from the 99¢ store (if only that were still possible, right?) and I would just sit and nibble the whole thing, and think to myself that I would be perfectly happy if I was a prisoner or a street urchin in France and had to survive on nothing but bread and water. Okay, so maybe I was an odd kid, but the point remains, there is nothing more satisfying than a perfect baguette.
The perfect baguette
Unfortunately, as simple as the ingredients are, making a perfect baguette isn’t always so simple. It’s got to be chewy and soft and crunchy all at the same time. It needs to have a perfect crispy crackly crust, so it’s not just an elongated Italian loaf, but not so hard that you can’t rip off a piece. It should have a nice airy structure inside, but not massive holes so that it can’t hold some bruschetta or tapenade.
In searching for the perfect recipe, I have had a few successes… And many many failures. Usually, the quality of the end result was directly related to the amount of time and effort involved. The best baguette recipes usually span many hours or even a couple days, and as much as I love baguettes, that just wasn’t worth it to me.
Cutting time, but keeping quality
I finally found a 4-hour recipe that always turned out well, but even that is half a day, and just not something I can do all the time. After some practice and tweaking, I’ve managed to get it down to only 2 hours, and most of that is just waiting. Now, I make baguettes all the time, and I am in heaven. And it’s so easy that you can too!
The stretch and fold
This dough is particularly wet, which can make it difficult to work with without a couple of essential tips. The first secret is the stretch and fold. This is a technique used with many types of bread that have high water content. After the first rest, rather than punching the dough down or shaping it right away, you use this method to strengthen the gluten so the dough is workable without having to add more flour.
Simply grab the dough from the back of the bowl and stretch it upwards about 6 – 10 inches, then fold it in half. Repeat this process from the right, the front, and the left. You will be shocked just how much stronger and firmer the dough gets after each stretch and fold.
Shaping the loaves
The second secret is to not be shy about shaping, just go for it! Even after stretching and folding, the dough will be very soft. You will not be able to slowly and carefully work the dough into a perfect shape or roll it out like a traditional baguette. But don’t worry, the “rustic” shape just shows that it is homemade, and it will still be just as delicious.
To keep it from sticking to your hands, make sure you have plenty of oil on your hands — or even better, get them wet before shaping each loaf, as the water on the bread will help create steam making for a better crust. Break off about a third of the dough, wrap your fingers around it and gently but quickly pull and smooth it from both directions to stretch it into a rough log shape. Don’t worry if it’s not quite right yet, set it down and make the other two then come back to it. This will give the gluten a chance to rest so that it will be able to stretch further, rather than tearing.
Choosing a pan
I prefer to use a specific baguette pan, because it keeps your baguettes the perfect size and shape. Once you taste these you’ll want to make them all the time, so it is definitely a worthwhile purchase, I think I might get myself one or two more, because I often find one batch just isn’t enough! If you don’t have a baguette pan, don’t worry. Just use a sheet of parchment paper or foil to make your own! Lay it on your baking sheet, fold and crease it to create three sections, and be sure to spray it.
Why measure by weight?
There’s a reason that I call myself a cook, NOT a baker. Baking requires so much more precision. For consistent results, you need to be able to make consistent measurements. It may seem fussy to weigh your ingredients, but it actually saves you time! It is actually is LESS effort to add everything directly into the mixing bowl instead of having to dirty a dozen different measuring cups and spoons, plus you get better results. It’s a win-win! Do yourself a favor and get a kitchen scale today!
Like many of the best bread recipes, baguettes are simultaneously extremely simple in theory, yet often surprisingly complex to actually get just right. But that doesn’t have to be the case with this delicious recipe that will only take a few minutes at a time of work, with a bit of waiting in between.
By Metric Weight – Recommended
- 7 grams Dry Active Yeast - 7 g = 1 packet
- 340 grams Water - lukewarm
- 417 grams Flour
- 14 grams Salt
By U.S. Volume
- 2 1/4 teaspoons Dry Active Yeast - 2 1/4 t = 1 packet
- 1 1/2 cups Water
- 2 2/3 cups Flour
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- Stir together yeast and water.
- Mix in flour and salt just until all the flour is moistened. Let rest for 10 minutes.
- Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then transfer to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
- Grab the dough from one side, stretch it upwards, and fold it over. Repeat on the other three sides. Re-cover, and let double again (about 30 more minutes).
- Working quickly, with oiled or wet hands, take a third of the dough, stretch it into a rough log shape, and lay it on your greased baguette pan or lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other two portions of dough. Gently stretch a second time to even out the shape and make sure it spans the entire length of the pan.
- If using a lined baking sheet, fold the parchment paper or foil between the loaves to maintain their shape.
- Let rise one more time while preheating the oven to 475°F.
- Bake for 20 minutes until browned and crispy.