16 - 20 HOURS
Baguettes are pretty common across the world yet traditional hand-moulded ones like these are hard to come by in many areas. The baguette uses many different techniques and in my opinion are one of the most challenging artisan breads to make.
The challenge is the shaping and the confidence in using a couche and let's not forget the peel as you remove the baguettes from the baking stone. Difficult as they are, the search to continue to improve your baguette quality is an enjoyable challenge than can go on forever!
The challenge is the moulding and also the confidence in using a couche and the peel to bake straight on to the baking stone. Difficult as they are, the search to continue to improve your baguette quality is an enjoyable challenge than can go on for months!
How to make French baguettes video tutorial
Method by hand
Prepare the poolish
The poolish by whisking the yeast with the water first. If using dried yeast follow the instructions below. Once the yeast is dissolved, add the flour and lightly mix to distribute for around 1 minute. Leave the biga for 12-16 hours to develop.
Being the autolyse
The next day, once the poolish has fermented. Add all the poolish, 1st water, flour and yeast to a bowl, gently mix until a fairly even structure is made. Leave to autolyse for 20-30 minutes.
Incorporate and slowly knead
Next, add the salt and set a 5 minute timer. Then with a plastic dough scraper make sweeping movements to combine the ingredients in the bowl. Once the dough forms a mass, knead slowly on a table, using a stretching motion. Continue this until the timer beeps, by now the dough should have an even consistency. Scrap the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with a bag and place it in the fridge.
Alternatively use a dough mixer:
Add the salt, with the rest of the ingredients to a dough mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Mix at a slow speed for 6 minutes, then fast for 6 minutes. At this point, slow the speed and add the second water. Increase the speed once the water starts to absorb and continue to mix for another 2 minutes (or until the dough is an even consistency). Skip step 4.
After 10 minutes, take the dough out onto the table and set a 5 minute timer. Knead fast using the stretch, slap and fold technique for maximum efficiency. When the timer ends, place back in the bowl with the second water and push the dough into the water with your hand. When the dough starts to incorporate the water turn it back out onto the table and knead for another 2-3 minutes.
Leave to rest (bulk ferment)
Using a dough scraper, place the dough into a lightly floured bowl, cover and leave to rest for 20 minutes in the fridge.
Stretch and fold
Remove the dough from the bowl and complete a stretch and fold or lightly knead for 30 seconds. Cover the dough in the bowl again and leave in the kitchen side for another 20 minutes.
Stretch and fold again
Repeat the stretch and fold or light knead and rest again on the kitchen surface for 20 minutes.
Divide into baguettes
Lightly flour dust the surface and place the dough on top using a plastic dough scraper. Now, using a metal dough scraper, divide into 220g pieces and lightly shape into cylinders and leave to rest on the table for 20 minutes.
Once relaxed, from the centre of the dough, roll out using both hands until the length of the baguette is formed. This should be about 30cm, you can taper the ends if you wish. As you shape each one, transfer onto a floured couche or tea towel.
Proof those little beauties
Once all the baguettes are shaped, cover with the couche and allow to proof for 1- 1 ½ hours. Get the oven with a baking stone preheated to 250C (480F).
Scoring - Practice makes perfect!
Use a long peel to remove the baguettes from the couche. Either cut and drop them in the oven one by one or transfer 3-4 to a board and then cut and slide them all into the oven on the baking stone. Cut by making 4-5 cuts through the middle, holding the knife/lame at a slight angle. Add plenty of steam as they go into the oven.
Bake for around 20 - 25 minutes, you may wish to drop the heat to 240C (465F) but my oven isn’t powerful enough to get to that temperature quickly anyway so I don’t bother. If the baguettes are looking pale, consider using the top heat function near the end of baking to help caramelise the crusts.
Remove and cool
Remove from the oven using a peel and allow to cool.
Using dried yeast
If using instant yeast, divide the amount of fresh yeast used by 3 and follow the same method as fresh yeast.
Active dried yeast needs to be activated before use. In this case, warm the water for the poolish to 35C (95F) - no higher. Add the yeast to the bowl, whisk and leave for 10 minutes to bloom. Combine the flour for the poolish to the yeasty water. Then place the preferment in the fridge for 20 minutes to cool. Return to worktop and allow to ferment as above.
When ready to start the dough, warm 10 grams of water to 35C (95F), add the yeast, whisk and leave to stand for ten minutes before adding to the dough. Remove 10 grams of the 1st water addition from the recipe.
Top tips for the best French baguettes
New couche’s must be well floured to prevent the baguette dough sticking to them. You can always use a pastry brush to remove some of the flour before cutting.
You can retard these authentic baguettes in the fridge overnight in the couches. Just cut and bake without leaving them to proof or warm up.
Use French T55 or T65 for the most amazing French baguettes. If you can’t get hold of these try replacing 20g or white flour with wholemeal for a more flavourful flour.
A 220g dough piece makes the perfect size baguette for my home oven. If you have a larger or a professional oven, consider increasing the size to make longer baguettes.