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Fear Conquered: Homemade Baguettes
Here’s how this post originally started (as I cringe at my own blasé):
Normally, I include a lengthy story with each recipe I post - but today I'm so far behind (thank you, wretched fever!) I shall instead attempt to bypass all the fluff and jump right into the heart of this recipe.That was three years ago and I’ll be honest - I’m not happy with what I called a baguette in those days. That old baguette recipe wasn’t a baguette recipe at all. It was bread shaped to resemble baguettes. Tasty, crusty, fluffy and delicious - but not baguette delicious. And my old recipe was too complicated. Too many ingredients, too many steps, too much fuss. It’s just not what I want in a baguette.
In case you missed my recent post about why you should own a bread machine, I'll pause for a moment while you catch up on your reading.
You're back? Then you're now quite familiar with the virtues of bread machines and no doubt you've already ordered one for yourself. And when your shiny new bread maker arrives, you may wonder to yourself, "What should I make first?"
The answer is baguettes. Because baguettes are perfect for so many occasions: alongside soups, crust for bruschetta, cubed for croutons, sliced lengthwise for garlic bread, etc.
This is my go-to recipe for baguettes. I've tweaked the recipe dozens of times and it's a quite pleasing dough - it never fails to proof beautifully and the crumb stays moist despite the hot bake temperature. And if you become bored with baguettes, you can shape the dough into challahs or even bake in traditional rectangular loaf pans (although you will miss out on 30 minutes of dough-forming fun).
Feeling a bit timid about making bread? Buck up. Just breeze through the bread maker's manual so you know how to operate your machine, check your cabinets for all the necessary ingredients, and then start measuring. It's not scary, not even a little bit.
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So I took a radical new approach: start over. Two years ago, I had just finished reading the marvelous Tartine Bread cookbook by Chad Robertson. It’s all about baking with natural sourdough starters - no commercial yeast, no shortcuts. Just amazing bread. It’s the kind of book that leaves you longing for a giant boule of rustic bread broken between peasant friends.
Yet as delightful as the book was, I couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning commercial yeast. Frankly, I don’t have the time, interest or patience to nurture natural sourdough. I’m just not that kind of guy. But once I managed to get past the sourdough starter, I awoke to the genius concept of the wet, sticky, loose, low-knead dough found throughout Tartine Bread. Stubbornly refusing to adopt someone else’s recipe, I took a leap of faith and radically drafted my own baguette recipe intentionally crafted to be wet and sticky. Terrifyingly sticky.
And it worked. Sort of. The bread tasted delicious, but without molds, the baguettes came out flat and sad. So with a little folded foil, a few sheets of parchment paper and a handful of failed attempts, I conquered the last obstacle by constructing a set of simple DIY baguette molds.
Finally. Nearly authentic baguettes. Crusty and chewy with amazing texture and flavor. And unlike truly authentic sourdough baguettes, these take less than half the time. No sourdough starter to babysit, no overnight bulk rise, no fussy forming. That’s the kind of authenticity I’m happy to skip. And thankfully, so can you.
In fact, if you start right now, you could be enjoying your very own baguettes in less than five hours. Made at home, from-scratch, in your own kitchen, with no special equipment. Not too shabby.
STORY | PRINTABLE RECIPE | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
|Heat 2 cups of purified water to approximately 110F.|
|Measure 1/4 cup olive oil.|
|For the starter batter, you will need 1 cup unbleached bread flour.|
|Combine the water, yeast, olive oil and 1 cup of flour in a large bowl.|
|Whisk the starter batter until smooth, then let rest for 15 minutes.|
|Add the remaining ingredients to the starter batter.|
|Stir together with a wooden spoon. Continue working the mixture until everything is moistened.|
|Continue to work the dough with the spoon until it forms a shaggy ball.|
|Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes. Work the dough in the bowl with the spoon for 1 minute, then rest for 10 minutes. Repeat working and resting the dough 2 more times.|
|After the final cycle of working the dough, the dough should be a bit smoother. Gather the dough into a rough ball and cover with the plastic wrap.|
|Let the dough proof until doubled, about 70 minutes.|
|Punch down and deflate the dough, then gather into a rough ball.|
|Cover with the plastic wrap and let the dough rise for another 30 minutes.|
|Meanwhile, prepare the mold troughs for the baguettes. I use folded and shaped foil lined with parchment paper grouped together on a half sheet pan.|
|Add a generous amount of flour to a working surface - the dough will be very sticky so the extra flour will be important.|
|After the final rise, deflate the dough, gather into a ball and divide into quarters.|
|Shape each quarter into a 14-16 inch baguette. I roll and twist the dough gently until it conforms to the desired shape.|
|Transfer the baguettes to the prepared molds.|
|Allow the baguette loaves to rise in the troughs for 30 minutes.|
|During the last 15 minutes of the rise, add 4 cups of ice to an old baking sheet positioned on the lowest oven rack. Preheat the oven to 500F.|
|Once the oven is preheated, score the top of each baguette with a very sharp blade.|
|Immediately transfer the loaves to the oven and bake in the troughs for 20 minutes.|
|Carefully transfer the baguettes from the troughs to a half sheet pan and bake for another 20 minutes after adding more ice to the baking sheet on the lowest oven rack.|
|Cool the baguettes on wire racks for at least 20 minutes before slicing or breaking.|
STORY | PHOTO TUTORIAL | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
Homemade Crusty Baguettes
Prep Time: 4 hrs
Cook Time: 40 min
Ingredients (4x 16-inch baguettes)
- 2 cups purified water, warmed (105-115℉)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 cups ice, for baking
- Combine the water, yeast, oil and 1 cup of flour in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) and whisk until smooth; let the batter rest 15 minutes
- Add the sugar, remaining flour and salt to the batter and stir with a wooden spoon (or dough hook on low speed) until the dough forms a shaggy ball; cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rest 10 minutes
- Vigorously work the dough in the bowl with a wooden spoon (or dough hook on low speed) for 1 minute, then let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Repeat two more cycles of working the dough for 1 minute and resting for 10
- After the final cycle, gather the dough into a ball at the bottom of the bowl and cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap; let the dough rise until doubled, about 70 minutes
- Punch down and deflate the dough, then knead in the bowl for 1 minute; gather the dough into a ball, cover with the plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 30 minutes
- Meanwhile, prepare four baguette trough molds (I use foil molds lined with parchment paper grouped together on a half sheet pan)
- Gently deflate the dough after the final rise and transfer the dough to a generously floured surface; divide the dough into quarters and shape each quarter into a 14-16 inch baguette
- Transfer the baguettes to the trough molds and let the loaves rise for 30 minutes; during the last 15 minutes of the rise, position an old baking sheet filled with 4 cups of ice on the lowest oven rack and preheat the oven to 500℉
- Lightly score the tops of the baguettes with a very sharp blade and immediately bake the baguettes in the troughs for 20 minutes; carefully transfer the baguettes from the troughs to a half sheet pan and bake for another 20 minutes after adding the remaining ice to the baking sheet on the lowest rack
- Cool the baguettes on a wire rack for 20 minutes before breaking or slicing
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Hungry for Tips?
- One Bowl: You can mix, knead and let the dough rise all in the same bowl. There’s no need to transfer the dough between a mixing bowl and a “rising” bowl. That means fewer dishes, less cleanup and faster prep.
- Warm water: To be honest, I rarely take the temperature of my water when baking. The water should be warm to the touch but not so hot that it makes your finger uncomfortable if you leave it in the water. If you get the water too hot, it will kill the yeast.
- Sticky: This dough is VERY sticky due to the high ratio of water to flour. But that moisture is what makes a baguette so delicious. So don’t add extra flour or fret about sticky fingers. Just avoid touching the dough with your hands and use a wooden spoon instead
- Ice: The trick to achieving crusty bread is a hot AND steamy oven. And nothing releases steam like ice. Ideally, it’s best to bake bread in a clay oven which retains perpetual moisture. Since so few of us are privileged enough to own a clay oven, ice on a baking sheet works just fine.
- Baking: I know a 500℉ oven sounds crazy hot, but its exactly what these baguettes need. The intense heat and steam from the ice will produce a wonderfully crusty layer while sealing in moisture for a chewy center. So be brave and let these baguettes really toast.
- Cooling: Unless you plan to eat the baguettes immediately (which is so tempting), let them cool completely before breaking or slicing. This will help lock-in the moisture and preserve that chewy texture for another day.
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