Classic French Baguette

Author: Marthinus Strydom
Category: Bread
Serves/Qty: 2
Marthinus Strydom

Baguette is a classic French loaf of bread that is characterized by its long, thin shape and crispy crust. Baguette is a lean dough, meaning there is no fat present in the dough.

The Story

Baguette is a classic French loaf of bread that is characterized by its long, thin shape and crispy crust. French baguette is a lean dough, meaning there is no fat present in the dough, which creates a chewy texture inside of the loaf. The word baguette in French means baton or stick, and therefore is sometimes referred to as “French stick bread.”

The process of making an authentic French baguette recipe takes a little time and some understanding of bread technique. However, the best way to perfect the baguette craft is to practice. Making this simple rustic bread is extremely rewarding.

Due to the high hydration ratio, this dough is essentially a no-knead bread. In order to form the gluten structure that kneading produces, the bread is fermented for a longer period of time with several brief stretch and folds throughout.

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Ingredients
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FOR THE FINAL DOUGH
135 g white bread flour
135 g cake flour
163 g filtered water, slightly warm (about 32 c)
1 g instant dry yeast
6 g kosher salt
FOR THE POOLISH
89 g white bread flour
89 g filtered water, slightly warm (about 32 c)
1 g instant dry yeast

Method

Important Note: USE A SCALE!

  1. Make the Poolish:

    Poolish is a starter dough. Basically you make a small amount of dough that you leave to ferment for a period of time, normally overnight.
    The night before making your baguettes or at least 6 hours before, make the poolish. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the poolish using a spoon or spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature for at least 6 hours, but preferably 8-10 hours. Just put everything in a bowl and mix with a spatula until properly combined.

    AFTER THE POOLISH HAS FERMENTED
  2. Combine the Dough:

    Add the rest of the ingredients for the baguette dough into the bowl with the poolish. Stir until well combined. It will appear as if there is not enough liquid at first, but as you work it together it will become a sticky dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it slightly to hydrate all the flour. As soon as all of the flour is hydrated and you have a shaggy dough with no dry spots, cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.
  3. Stretch and Fold:

    After the dough has rested for 45 minutes, you will do a series of three stretch and folds with the dough.

    With the dough still in the bowl, lightly dampen your hand (this will prevent the dough from sticking) and pull on one side of the dough and stretch it up and then fold it down over the top of the dough.

    Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and do the same with the next side. Do this again until you have stretched all four sides of the dough up and over on itself.

    Cover the bowl and let it rest for 45 more minutes. Stretch and fold the dough for the second round. Cover and let rest for 45 more minutes. Stretch and fold for the third round. Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 more minutes.

    This is a 2 and a half hour process from when the dough is mixed to when it is ready to be shaped. Four 45 minute resting periods with three stretch and folds in between.
  4. Prep the Oven & Other Equipment:

    During the final resting period, prep your pans and your oven. Position one oven rack in the very bottom position in the oven and another rack in the middle position. Place a cast iron skillet or another heatproof skillet on the bottom rack and a baking stone, baking steal, or a sheet pan turned upside down on the middle rack. Preheat your oven to 260C. You want your oven and pans to be heating for at least an hour before the bread goes into the oven.
    You will also need to set up a lightly floured lint free towel or baker's couche to let your shaped dough rise on. Additionally, prepare an unrimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
  5. Pre-Shape & Rest the Dough:

    If you have a scale, weigh the dough and divide it in two equal pieces by cutting it. Each piece should be about 305 grams each. You can also eyeball this if you do not have a scale. On a very lightly floured surface, press one piece of dough out into a rectangle and gently stretch the short ends out. Fold each short end into the center and press down with your fingertips to seal. Fold each long end into the center and press with your fingertips to seal, creating a seam in the dough. Set the dough aside and repeat this process with the second piece. Cover the pieces of dough with plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Shape into Baguettes:

    With the seam side up, press the first piece of dough into a thin rectangle. Starting at the top left edge, begin folding down the dough about 1.5 cm and sealing it with your fingertips, working your way across the top. Repeat this process, continuing to fold down on the dough and sealing to create a tight log. Once you have a thin, tight log, turn it seam side down. Using both hands, roll the dough on the counter-top, working it into a long thin snake shape. Try to keep the dough as even as possible and work it into about a 36 cm baguette. Move the piece of dough to your prepared towel or baker's couche. Push the towel or couche up on both sides of the baguette to create folds to hold the dough's shape. Repeat this process with the second piece of dough.
  7. Let the Dough Rise:

    Cover the pieces of dough with plastic wrap and let them rest for 45-60 minutes until doubled in size.
  8. Transfer the Dough & Score:

    Place a baguette board or a small cutting board right beside one of the baguettes. Gently pull up on the towel to flip the baguette over onto the board. Move the baguette over to the parchment lined pizza peel or unrimmed baking sheet. Gently flip the baguette onto the parchment paper, so that the seam side is down. Repeat this to move the second baguette over. Using a very sharp knife or a bread lame, cut 4-5 slashes in the top of the baguettes.The slashes should go diagonally and at a slight angle, going about  0.5 cm deep.
  9. Bake:

    Fill a small bowl with about 2 cups of cold water. You want to work quickly and carefully when transferring the baguettes. Open the oven and gently slide the whole piece of parchment paper with the baguettes onto the preheated baking stone or sheet pan. Quickly pour the cold water into the preheated skillet and immediately shut the oven door. Turn the oven temperature down to 246 C. Bake for about 25-40 minutes. It is traditional for baguettes to have a very dark crust. Check them at 25 minutes and decide if you would like a darker crust. I bake mine for 40 minutes for a dark, almost charred, crust.
  10. Cool:

    Allow the baguettes to cool completely before slicing (at least 45 minutes). This will completely develop their flavor. Baguettes are best when eaten the same day. However, leftover baguette can be wrapped in foil and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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