Sunday, January 15, 2012

French Baguettes

Are you all enjoying your 3 day weekend?  Are you getting a 3 day weekend?  I hope so.  If not, sorry I just rubbed it in.

I'm enjoying mine.  It's so nice, how just a little dash of MLKJ Day turns the Sunday night feeling of the last meal before the execution into a lazy, relaxing afternoon that stretches into a long, satisfying evening.

My cheat day yesterday intentionally coincided with my friend Sara coming over to administer a crash course in French cookery.  It was awesome.  Sara is a constant source of cooking/green living inspiration, and when it comes to baguettes, she actually lived in France for awhile (as opposed to merely studying French in high school and somehow never just shutting up about it--me), so I trust her judgment.  We made French onion soup, French baguettes, and crepes, but for now let's start with the baguettes.

Now if we're going to go for authentic French style baguettes, we're going to have to limit ourselves to four, and only four ingredients.  Those being flour, yeast, salt, and water.  That's all you need to make your life delicious.  Note the careful and intentional omission of my two best friends, butter and sugar.  They're not invited to this party.

There are a few tricks, and like anything really good, they take some time.  But really, the process is mostly painless.  So grab your stand mixer and let's get to it.

French Baguettes
(makes 4 baguettes, recipe from my friend Sara, whose blog I would totally link if she'd write it)

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp yeast
2 tsp sea salt
1 3/4 cups water

Combine flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add water and start mixer, using the dough hook attachment, on a low setting.  Allow to mix for about 5 minutes, until dough is shiny and not super sticky.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a clean dish towel and you can either a) refrigerate the dough for 12 hours, allowing it to rise in the fridge OR b) allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 4 hours.

I chose the 4 hours out of the fridge option.  Once your dough has risen, do NOT punch it down, remove it from the bowl gently onto a floured surface.  Using your hands, gently tear the dough into 4 equal pieces.  

Working with your hands, gently flatten each piece into a rectangular shape a little longer than your hand.  Starting from one of the long sides, Fold about 1/3 of the dough up onto itself.  Then take the opposite edge, and starting at one edge, pull the unfolded side, stretching it just a bit, and pull it over the folded side.  

As I'm typing this I realize how difficult it is to picture, so here is a rudimentary MS Paint drawing attempting to clarify.

Allow your baguettes to rest for 10 minutes.  

After the 10 minutes of rest, flip them over so the seam side is up, press them lightly down into the same rectangle shape from step 1, and repeat the folding process again.  Finally, stretch them out to the length of your baguette pan (oh yeah you might want a baguette pan, or failing that, an ungreased nonstick cookie sheet) and set them gently in the pan.  Cover with a clean dish towel and allow them to rest about 1-2 hours, no longer than 3.

After they have risen after an hour or two, move your oven racks to the very top and the very bottom position.  Place a metal pie pan in the bottom of the oven.  Ready 1 cup of additional water.  Preheat your oven as high as it will go.  No joke.  For me, this was 500.  After the oven has preheated, carefully score your baguettes, about 3-4 light cuts across the top with a serrated knife immediately before baking.

Place the baguettes on the top rack, quickly throw that cup of water into the pie pan to create steam, and shut the oven door very quickly.  Immediately reduce heat to 395 and bake for 25 minutes.  

After the baguettes are done, you should be able to turn them over, and knock on the bottom, it should sound hollow, this means they are done.

You can serve them immediately with butter and I recommend Nutella, or you can wrap them in plastic and freeze them, reheating them in the oven when you're ready.

And just so you know I'm for real, I'll tell you a horror story.  I stupidly put a glass loaf pan in the bottom of my inferno-grade hot oven and threw a cup of cool water in for my baguettes, and of course, as I'm sure everyone but me knew would happen, the glass pan EXPLODED.  There is still broken glass in my oven.  I'm so ashamed.

The baguettes were delicious and amazingly free of glass shards.  I'll count that as a win.


  1. Ash, I'm going to make this as soon as I return from my vacation. But one question: Do you need your water at the beginning to be warm, and do you let your yeast start foaming like with other bread, or do you throw it all in together as indicated? I'm so excited to try this. I've been making bread for a couple of years, but have feared the baguette.
    Love love

  2. I used lukewarm water, but no to answer your question, you don't have to foam the yeast at all because you're giving the bread so much time to rise. Hope they turn out well for you! Love you!

  3. bread flour or all purpose flour?


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