I was in Versailles, Fr last month and had what was undoubtedly the best baguette of my life. The crust had the exact right crunch and the interior was soft and light. Then and there I decided I needed to perfect my baguette baking to at least approach this level of perfection.
My go-to recipe is from King Arthur and it served me well. Upon returning home I searched for differences in recipe ingredients and methods keying on authors who tauted the bread qualities that I wanted.
From what I understand the hydration level, (this recipe is 72%) at least in part, determines the size of the holes in the bread. By using the stretch and fold technique with a long rest (45 min) between each helps develop the gluten. These two properties contribute to the characteristics I desire.
This is the first attempt of “perfecting” my baguette. Do you remember my five attempts at baking an acceptable rye bread? Well, here we go again,
Classic French Baguettes
• 500 g all purpose flour • 360 g water • 10 g salt • 3 g instant yeast about 1 tsp • 25 g honey about 1 Tbsp
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Stretch and fold every 45 minutes and repeat at 3 times, flipping the dough upside down after each set. The rest time between stretch and folds is important.
Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight for about 12-14 hours.
Turn the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 3 equal parts and gently shape into rectangles without knocking the air out of the dough. Cover and let rest for 45-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 500F, with a baking stone positioned in the upper half the oven. I like to use a small cast iron skillet with water to provide steam. Add the water below when the loaves are put into the oven.
Stretch each dough rectangle slightly and fold into a cylinder, sealing the seams as you roll. Using your hands, roll the cylinders gently stretching them from the center towards the ends to desired length, about 14-15 inches.
Place each loaf on a lightly floured couche, seam side up. Cover and proof at a room temperature for about 30-60 minutes, or until the dough has sufficiently proofed. Press dough with a finger. If it springs back slowly it is properly proofed. If it never springs back it is over proofed and if it springs back quickly it is under proofed.
Transfer the baguettes to a piece of parchment paper, seam side down and dust off excess flour. I like to use a serrated break knife to make 5 scores on each baguette. Don’t cut straight across the loaf, but with a shallow long cut down the length. Each cut should be 4-5” longWhen scoring, use a swift and firm motion to ensure nice and clean cuts.
Carefully open the oven, and slide the rack with the baking stone out. Slide the baguettes off the parchment paper and onto the baking stone. Add a cup of water to the cast iron skillet, close the oven and reduce temperature to 475F. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the water pan, rotate the baguettes, drop the temperature to 450F and continue baking for another 10- 15 minutes, Check how brown the baguettes are after 10 minutes and every couple of minutes thereafter. They should be a nice dark brown, but not too dark. Over baking will make the crust and interior too hard. Experience will tell you when it is Goldilocks just right.
I wonder if my 9th grade French teacher would be proud of me? I looked up how to say “it’s time for a french bread batard” in French on Google Translate all by myself!
This is not my first rodeo with this bread, but it is the best loaf to date. While the Covid travesty has been horrible, my baking skills have improved enormously. Most of the METHOD steps are from KAB, but I added my own comments in places.
(Oh, I also baked a dozen chocolate chip cookies from dough I have in the freezer. The oven was on! What choice did I have?)
French Bread – Recipe and method from KAF which should be KAB now.
Starter • 1 cup (227g) cool to lukewarm water (90°F to 100°F) • 1/2 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast • 1 1/4 cups (149g) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour • 1/4 cup (28g) King Arthur Premium 100% Whole Wheat Flour Dough • all of the starter (above) • 1 cup (227g) lukewarm water (100°F to 115°F) • 3/4 teaspoon active dry or 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast • 1 tablespoon (14g) sugar • 3 3/4 to 4 cups (450g to 480g) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour • 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 teaspoons salt, to taste
To make the starter: Stir all of the starter ingredients together to make a thick, pudding-like mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 2 hours. For best flavor, let the starter rest longer; overnight (up to 16 hours) is best.
To make the dough: Stir down the starter with a spoon and add the water, yeast, sugar, 3 1/4 cups (390g) of the flour, and the salt. The dough will be a loose, messy mass. Let it rest for 12 to 15 minutes, then stir it again; it should become more cohesive and a bit smoother. Dough handles better once it’s had time for the flour to absorb the water while resting and relaxing. By using this method, you’ll tend to add less flour, and have much bigger holes in your finished bread.
Knead the dough, adding up to an additional 3/4 cup (90g) flour (as necessary to make a soft dough), 10 to 12 minutes. I use the dough hook on my stand mixer. For me, the dough should clean the sides of the mixer bowl. That’s how I know when adequate flour has bee added.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or plastic container, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until almost doubled (depending on the weather, this could be 1 to 2 hours). If you’re going out, or if you prefer, let the dough rise slowly in the fridge. If your dough has been refrigerated, allow it to come to room temperature before shaping; it’ll warm up and rise at the same time. I used my proofing oven with only the light on for warmth. The same for the final proof below.
Deflate the dough gently, but don’t knock out all the air; this will create those “holes” so important to French bread. For one large loaf, form the dough into a round ball; for two loaves, divide the dough in half and shape into two balls. For loaves, form into a battard about 2” diameter and 4” shorter than bread tray. Place on semolina floured French bread tray to rise..
Place a semolina- or cornmeal-dusted piece of parchment paper onto a baking sheet. (Note to self: Don’t go crazy with semolina. It WILL fall off the paper and onto the floor when transferring the loaves from the peel onto the baking stone in the oven,) Gently place the ball(s) of dough on the baking sheet, seam-side down. It is easiest to roll the loaves onto the baking peel.
Cover the bread gently with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until it’s puffy and about 40% to 50% larger, anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes if using the proofing drawer..
Preheat your oven to 475°F.
Dust each loaf with a little flour. Slash or cross-hatch it with a sharp knife or lame. Spritz water into the oven with a clean plant mister, and place the bread in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425°F and spritz with water every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking.
If you are using parchment paper, remove it after the first 15 minutes of baking.
Bake the bread for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until it’s a rich golden brown, and its interior temperature registers at least 190°F on a digital thermometer. The smaller loaves will bake more quickly, so keep your eye on them.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. Store bread, loosely wrapped in paper, for a couple of days at room temperature; wrap it in plastic and freeze for longer storage.