Bonjour, mes amis! This week, we are making bread! And not just any bread, but that most quintessential of French breads – the baguette. Maybe you’ve avoided making baguettes à la maison because you’ve heard they are a lot of work. Maybe you’ve tried and been unhappy with the results.
Fear not, dear readers! This recipe is one of the simplest and most foolproof I’ve every tried. And let me tell you, I have tried a lot of baguette recipes over the past 30 years of cooking! Store-bought baguettes – an even some from very good bakeries – can be bland and even occasionally – gasp! – soft and limp. These are often mass produced and as a result the proofing is rushed in ways that produce unappetizing results. A vrai baguette is crusty on the outside, with an open crumb and exudes a slight nutty aroma and flavor.
The best baguette I ever had was at a gas station in Paris. I ordered a sandwich with ham and hardboiled egg on a baguette. I sat on bench just outside the filling station with my sandwich. Cars and scooters sped by. The smell of gasoline (petrol) was in the air. And ate the whole sandwich with gusto.
It wasn’t haute cuisine. It wasn’t elegant and refined. But, it was one of the best sandwiches that I ever had – thanks to that amazing baguette. Each time I use this recipe, I remember that impromptu lunch and smile.
Bakery-Style French Baguettes
- 1/2 C bread flour
- 1/2 C warm water
- 1/2 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast
- 3-3/12 C bread flour
- 3/4 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast
- 1 1/2 C warm water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Vegetable oil spray
- 1 large egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
For the sponge
- Stir all ingredients together in medium bowl until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until sponge has risen and fallen, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
For the dough
- Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine 3 cups flour and yeast. With mixer on low speed, add water and mix until dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Stop mixer, cover bowl with plastic wrap (no need to remove bowl from mixer), and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- Remove plastic, add sponge and salt, and knead dough on medium-low speed until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If after 4 minutes more flour is needed, add remaining 1/2 cup flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl, but sticks to bottom.
- Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball. Place dough in large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic. Let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Slide a plastic bench scraper or rubber spatula under side of dough; gently lift and fold one-third of the dough toward center. Repeat with opposite side of dough. Finally, fold dough in half, perpendicular to first two folds, so dough is rough square. Cover, let rise for 30 minutes more, then repeat folding process. Cover and let rise until dough has doubled in size, about 30 minutes longer.
- Top pizza peel with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, gently pat dough into rough 8 by 6-inch rectangle. Gently fold bottom third of dough up to center and press to seal. Make indentation along length of dough with side of your outstretched hand. Working along length of dough, press your thumb against dough while folding and rolling upper edge down with other hand. Repeat 5 times until upper edge meets lower edge. Using your fingertips, press seam to seal. Roll dough cylinder seam side down; gently and evenly roll and stretch dough until it measures 15 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide and lay it seam side down on prepared peel, spaced about 5 inches apart. Mist baguettes with vegetable oil spray, cover loosely with plastic, and let rise in warm place until nearly double in size and dough barely springs back when poked with knuckle, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- One hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat over to 500 degrees.
For the glaze
- Score top of breads with razor blade or sharp knife, cutting four 1/2-inch deep slashes along width of each baguette. Brush breads with egg-water mixture, then spray lightly with water. Carefully slide loaves and parchment onto hot baking stone. Immediately reduce over temperature to 425 degrees and bake until crust is deep golden brown and center of bread registers 210 degrees, about 25 minutes, rotating loaves halfway through baking.
- Transfer loaves to wire rack, discard parchment and let cool for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.