Behold the best baguettes I have ever made! Aren’t they pretty!?
Having enjoyed the luxury of freshly-baked bread whilst on holiday, I decided to see if I could capture all that crunchy goodness myself. I’ve had a few attempts over the years, but nothing has been particularly successful, the main fault usually being the consistency of the dough: it’s either to tight and bakes heavy, or it’s too lithe and bakes flat.
So I turned to the internet and found a genuine Frenchman who not only explained the legal requirements of the composition, i.e. since 1993 the “baguette de tradition française” must be made from wheat flour, water, yeast or levain or both, and common salt. It may contain up to 2% broad bean flour, up to 0.5% soya flour, and up to 0.3% wheat malt flour, but he also had a video demonstrating his method, which is what produced the fab loaves at the top of this post.
Caveat: The method is simple and straightforward if you have a mixer with a dough hook and an oven that will get really hot. If you don’t have both, then this is not the post for you.
Don’t be tempted to tweak the recipe – I have been there and done that already, so I’ve saved you time. Don’t get lazy with the measuring of the ingredients, or try and rush the rising time. Just follow the instructions as they are written and all will be well.
You will also need a large container to store your dough in the fridge for the required time, with enough room for it to expand – I have a 5 litre plastic box with a lid that just squeezes onto a shelf.
If you’d like to watch the video, you can find it here.
Aside from translating from French, I have not changed this recipe at all.
The method for this dough does not require much effort, only time. Be sure to allow each stage its full allotment of resting time. One batch of this dough is just enough for five standard baguettes, although I have been making just four, and adding the remaining dough to the next batch of baguette dough, as a levain.
Stage 1 – autolyse
1kg strong white flour
- Put the flour and water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on slow for 4 minutes.
- Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Stage 2 – mixing the dough
8g fresh yeast, or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
- Add the salt and yeast and mix for 8 minutes on slow.
- Add the water and mix for 3 minutes on fast. The dough will now weigh almost 1.8kg, so unless your machine is heavy-duty, you might want to hold it steady for this part. At the end of the mixing the dough will be soft, elastic and very shiny.
- Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rest for 1 hour.
- Deflate the dough – I use a few turns of the dough hook.
- Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a box, cover and store in the fridge for a minimum of 6 and up to 48 hrs.
Stage 3 – dividing the dough
I recommend watching the video above to see how to handle the dough – it’s a controlled ‘tip’ and gentle initial shaping of the dough.
- After a minimum of 6 hours, tip out the cold dough and divide into standard baguette pieces of 350g. You can just bake a single baguette at a time and store the rest of the dough until needed. You could divide the whole batch, and then keep the loosely shaped pieces of dough in your covered box until required. Sprinkle the dough being stored with flour to help prevent crust from forming.
- Gently draw the dough pieces into a soft cylinder and allow to relax for 15-30 minutes.
Stage 4 – shaping the dough
- Even though the loaves above look OK, my shaping skills still needs refining. Nevertheless, they improved greatly after watching these two videos which can show you far better than I could explain: Video 1, Video 2.
- Sprinkle a baking sheet with semolina and lay your shaped baguette(s) on it.
- Sprinkle the top of the baguettes with flour to help prevent them from drying out, cover with a clean cloth and allow to rise for at least 1 hour. Now that the warm weather has disappeared, and depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you might want to allow it a little longer to rise.
- Put a baking tray in the bottom of your oven and pre-heat it to 300°C, 280°C Fan. No, that it’s a typo. You need a roaring hot oven to bake these. If you don’t think your oven can get that hot then just crank it up as high as it will go.
- Have ready a jug of warm-hot water.
- When your baguette is risen, just before putting it into the oven, slash the top four times to allow the dough to expand neatly as it bakes.
- Put the dough into the oven, pour the water into the hot baking tray underneath, and bake for 20 minutes. NB Even though my oven DOES go up to 280°C Fan, the bottom of the baguettes sound ‘heavy’ when tapped after 20 minutes, so even at this temperature I still need an extra five minutes (for a total of 25) to get that nice, hollow, well-baked sound.
- Cool on a wire rack.