French Baguettes

October 20, 2011

THIS WEEK, I had great fun making French baguettes. A baguette is an elongated bread with a firm body, a deep, yeasty flavor, and a crust that snaps, crackles and pops when you bite into it. You can make this poetry, too, and with just four basic ingredients:

French Baguettes from an American Kitchen
Ingredients for 3 baguettes

1 package Active Dry Yeast dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups unbleached “all purpose” flour
1 1/4 cup tepid water
1 cup cornmeal (to keep dough from sticking to towels and baking sheet)

Special Equipment: a pastry scraper; a baking sheet, sprinkled with cornmeal; 2 kitchen (or terry) towels, and a spray bottle filled with plain water

1. Making the dough — Pour flour, salt and yeast mixture into a large bowl; add 1 1/4 cup tepid water and stir around with a spatula to incorporate. Then pour this wet, sticky mass onto a non-porous work surface which has not been dusted with flour. (I use a marble slab for all my pastry-making adventures.) Let the dough rest for 2 minutes while the flour particles absorb moisture.

2. Kneading the dough — With your left hand, scrape up the dough with a pastry scraper, dump the dough into your right hand, and then slam the dough down onto your work surface. Repeat this action about 40 times, or until the dough softens up and looses most of its stickiness. This great aerobic activity causes the gluten molecules to join together.

Let the dough rest for 1 minute, and then repeat the lifting-and-slamming procedure for another 40 rounds.

You won’t have to visit the gym on baguette-making day.

3. The first rise – Place the dough in a clean bowl (you can wash out and dry the same bowl you used before), and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it triples in volume. In a 68-72 degree house, this will take about 3 hours. Remember, you can not rush a good thing.

4. Deflating the dough, and the second rise — With a floured hand, scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl, thereby deflating it. Release the dough onto your work surface. Pat it out with lightly floured hands.

Using your pastry scraper, flip over one side of the dough…

then flip the other side over, as shown . Return to the cleaned out bowl, seam-side down. Cover; let the dough rise again for 1 1/2- to 2-hours, or until it doubles in volume. While you wait, plant some paperwhites.

5. Forming the baguettes — Deflate the dough as in Step 4, pat the dough into a rough rectangle, and then cut it into 3 equal pieces.

Fold each piece over itself, as shown. Let rest for 5 minutes in order to relax the gluten.

Pat out one of the cut pieces. Then fold it into thirds, as if you were folding a letter. Remember when we used to fold letters?


Now, with a Karate-chopping action, make a trench down the center of the dough, as shown. Then fold the dough in half, and seal the edge with the heel of your hand.

Beginning at the center of the dough, and working towards the ends, use your hands to roll the dough back and forth to create a long rope.

Since my baking sheet is 17 inches long, I rolled each piece to a length of 15 inches.

6. The third and final rise — Sprinkle a handful of cornmeal onto a towel; place baguettes on the towel, making a pleat between each loaf, as shown. Lightly sprinkle tops with cornmeal, and then cover with a second towel. Let rise for about 2 hours, or until they have tripled in volume.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

6. Slashing the baguettes — Transfer the loaves to your cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet (yes, I photographed mine still on a towel). Then, with a safety razor, make 3 diagonal slashes about a 1/2-inch deep on each baguette. The slashes will open up during baking — and, if all goes according to plan — they will create a beautiful design on the crust. It isn’t easy to make clean slashes. But I keep trying.

7. Baking — 25 minutes at 450-degrees. Set the baking sheet on the bottom oven rack, quickly spritz the bread with water, and close the oven door. After 2 minutes, spritz again with water. After another 2 minutes, spritz again. It is the moisture in the oven which will cause the bread to develop an incredibly crispy crust.

After they have baked for 6 minutes, move the bread to the center oven rack, and continue to bake for the remaining 19 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

I wish you could hear the beautiful crackling sound this bread makes when you slice it, break it, or bite into it. Of course it’s marvelous for sopping up olive oil or spaghetti sauce. I can tell you a slice of this baguette will hold its shape when floated on a bowl of fragrant onion soup. If I can make it, I’ll wager you can, too.

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Related Posts:
My Favorite Whole Wheat Bread
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
Individual Corn Timbales
Pumpkin Muffins
Apples in Jack Daniels Custard

Comments

  1. Eliza J says:

    Thanks so much for posting this recipe. I will definitely be making it this weekend. It's a different process than I am used to and I am looking forward to the challenge! Have a great day…

  2. Eliza J – You sound like an adventurous cook, just like me. Let me know how the bread turns out for you. All the manipulation and resting of the dough is what gives this bread so much flavor, body and character. Have fun!

  3. Donna B. says:

    Oh… oh my. Hello easy to make bread!
    I have everything but the cornmeal – must pick it up next shopping venture! This looks delicious!

  4. Donna B. – These baguettes are indeed very easy to make. The only real work is kneading the bread, an activity I personally find very therapeutic!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Kevin,
    How one folds the letter in the US? Can you please explain?

    Thanks

    zoya

  6. Zoya – As it happens, I'm making this bread again right now. It's on its first rise.

    Sorry the letter-folding step wasn't clear. It is the same technique that's pictured in Step 4. Except now time the dough will be more malleable,and thus easier to work with your hands.

  7. Adele says:

    Gorgeous bread! Thanks for the recipe.

  8. Eliza J says:

    Hey Kevin ~ I had a lot of fun making this awesome bread today! It was easy and enjoyable, a process I hadn't used before, and I bake bread a lot…..oh yeah, add DELICIOUS to that also. My husband and I started tearing into a baugette shortly after it came out of the oven. This will be a staple in our household. Thanks so much for your detailed recipe….much appreciated.

  9. Eliza J – Thanks SO much for letting me know you tried — and enjoyed — the baguettes. They are a staple around here, too.

  10. Anne of Kinderhook says:

    I'm all set to try this recipe as it reminds me of my mom baking bread every Saturday morning. The aroma in the house is one which I wish could be bottled.
    How about some great soup recipes to go along with this bread. Anne

  11. Brenda Johnson says:

    Once again I was the fortunate wearer of the “taste tester hat”- while this bread was still hot from the oven!!! The aroma of freshly baked bread welcomed me at Kevin's door, along with Kevin and Lily! This bread has a golden brown crust that “snaps” as you break it. The center is soft and chewy and the flavor is like nothing you'll find in the local supermarkets! Kevin sent a loaf home with me (yay me!) and after a brief reheating in the oven- husband and I, along with our friends the Fudas- enjoyed it with a baked glazed cheese and a warm seafood spread (this bread sliced beautifully too!) I will be making this very soon!!! Well done-as always Kevin!

  12. Shirley Hodge says:

    I see one reader who isn’t particularly happy to do all the kneading needed to make really good bread of all types. I learned this from a neighbor who runs a catering service in her well stocked basement. I commented one day that I was surprised that she used a bread making machine as all her breads always looked hand formed. She said they were but the bread machine took away the chore of kneading. She mixes the ingredients in the machine and then lets the machine knead it for her. You can set the time for however you wish. Another hint she told me. Get the cheapest breadmaker you can find because you are not going to use the heating element which is what costs so much. Happy non-kneading.

  13. Angela says:

    Hi, thank you so much for this wonderful recipe! We tried it last week and it was delicious! My 9 year old daughter says its the best baguette she has ever had ( we live in Quebec and we have some pretty great bread here)! So we made the dough on Sunday and cooked only 1 baguette. I put the rest in the fridge and made 1 on Monday and the last on Tuesday. It was perfect each time. We are getting ready to make another batch right now…this time we will double it. Thank you again. Soon we will try your yogurt recipe.

  14. Angela – I’m so glad you tried — and liked — this recipe!

  15. Susie/VT says:

    I bake an artisan bread with no kneading – instead of the spritzing, I heat up an extra pan in the oven, and add HOT water (cold will cause instant breakage) when I put the bread in the oven. MMMMMmmmmm yummy and easy! I use a serrated steak knife instead of a safety razor for the slashing – much easier – no dragging – just like when slicing a tomato!
    So good to see so many people enjoying home made bread! No added chemicals or preservatives- woo hoo!

  16. Susie/VT – I like your serrated knife idea for slashing. Will give it a try.

  17. Mary Ann Salsman says:

    After the dough has risen on the pleated towel, doesn’t it deflate and stretch when transferring it to the baking sheet or stone?

  18. Hi, Mary Ann – No – the bread will have plenty of body at this point. Just keep your baking sheet next to the risen loaves so you don’t have to carry them far.

  19. Aimee Tate says:

    on my first rise for first time making this bread. I had so much fun slamming my bread on my cutting board. :-)

  20. Aimee Tate – The slamming-part burns so many calories that you can eat this bread without any guilt. Can’t wait to hear how the loaves turned out for you.

  21. Aimee Tate says:

    My baguetts truned out GREAT!!!!! They were so crunchy on the outside and chewey on the inside and my house smelled fantastic. My only problem is my bread doesn’t turn a golden brown color, it’s still kinda white and bland looking when it comes out.(looking not tasting) I temped my oven, it’s correct. I do have a gas oven, does that make a difference. Do I need to move it as close to the top of the oven if possible? this is the second time I have made bread, and both times my bread was not golden color.

  22. Aimee – Congratulations on your baguette success! Let the bread bake a little longer, and it should color nicely. Keep an eye on it — the difference between “nicely-colored” and too-brown can be a matter of seconds. Like you, I bake all of my breads in a gas oven.

  23. Caitilin says:

    These are amazing! And very fun to make!

  24. Barb says:

    Hi Again, I wondered how to get that crunchy crust. Haven’t tried this yet but will add this to the long growing lists of your wonderful new recipes! I have an electric oven. Will the results be the same in an electric oven? Thank you.

  25. Hi Barb – Good news for you. Because electric ovens are better for baking (they heat more evenly than gas appliances), you can expect superior results!

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