Baguettes deliver a true taste of Paris no matter where you enjoy them. Since we can’t go to Paris these days let’s create a Parisian aroma in our own home.
Why are baguettes considered quintessentially Parisian? In 1920, a law went into effect forbidding Parisian bakers from starting work before 4 am—to adapt to this law, Parisian bakers began baking the long, thin loaves we know as baguettes because they took less time to make than naturally leavened rustic breads. They could get them mixed, formed and baked before their shops opened!
Most commercial bread labeled “baguette” in stores today is soft and bland, bearing no resemblance to traditionally-made French baguettes. Zingerman’s Bakehouse is proud to say that our baguettes have an authentically crispy exterior and a beautifully holey interior.
Our French Baguette—Classic and Traditional
We start with a flavorful poolish (bakers call it a pre-ferment–it’s like a starter), made with organic wheat flour, water, yeast, and a long fermentation. Next, the recipe has the just-right proportions of flour and water and then the baguettes are baked directly on a stone hearth until they’re the perfect shade of golden brown. Once they’ve been removed from the oven, if you tear one open you’ll find its thin, crunchy crust will shatter and the airy open crumb inside will give off that sweet aroma of freshly baked bread. Our baguettes have a buttery, slightly sweet flavor, despite the fact that there’s no butter or sugar in the dough.
French baguettes are one of the breads we make that are like little miracles. Simple ingredients—water, yeast, flour, salt—are transformed into bread with a nuanced texture and flavor. (And they’re naturally vegan, just like most of the breads we bake!)
Believe it or not, this magical transformation is available to you in your kitchen, too! It’s really not hard—it just requires a little planning and lots of patience. Soon you can have a touch of Paris in your home.
French Baguette REcipe
All-Purpose Flour 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons 170 grams
Water (room temp) 3/4 cup 170 grams
Instant Yeast 1/8 teaspoon 1/8 teaspoon
Water (room temp) 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon 186 grams
Poolish (from above) 1 3/4 cups 340 grams
Instant Yeast 1/4 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
All-Purpose Flour 2 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon 340 grams
Sea Salt 2 teaspoons 12 grams
Mixing the Poolish:
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir together with a fork the all-purpose flour, water, and instant yeast until everything is incorporated.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the mix to ferment at room temperature for 12 hours. Use immediately or refrigerate and use within 24 hours for best results.
- Preheat the oven, baking stone, and a cast iron skillet to 450° F 45 minutes before.
Mixing the dough:
- In a large bowl, add the water, poolish, instant yeast, and half of the all-purpose flour. Combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined. The mixture will look like a thick pancake batter.
- Add the remaining flour and salt and stir the mixture to incorporate the dry and wet ingredients.
- Continue mixing the dough until it becomes a shaggy mass. Scrape the side of the bowl with the dough and spoon to pick up any dry bits.
- Using a plastic scraper, remove the dough from the bowl.
- Knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes. This is a very sticky dough. Do not add more flour!! It will ruin the texture of the baguette. Initially, you can knead in the bowl if you like. As it comes together you can then move to kneading it on your work surface.
- Spray your mixing bowl with non-stick spray or brush with oil. Put the dough into the mixing bowl and cover with plastic.
- Ferment for 1 hour.
- Dust the surface of a table. Uncover the dough and turn it onto the floured surface. Fold the dough as described in Preparing to Bake Section for Folding (see below). Turn the dough over and return it to the oiled bowl and cover.
- Ferment for another 1 hour.
- Lightly dust the surface of the table and turn the dough onto the floured surface. Fold your dough again as in step 8. Leave the dough on the surface and cover with plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
- With a bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 pieces.
- Form the pieces of dough into ovals. Place the seam side up on a lightly floured table and cover with plastic. Let rest for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes uncover the dough and lightly dust the tops with flour.
- Roll into final baguette shape, approximately 11” long. Place the baguettes in a linen (couche) seam side up and separated by pleats, then covered with the linen couche*. Let the baguettes proof for 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature. Use the touch test to see if the dough is ready for the oven.
- When ready to bake, use a transfer peel to transfer the baguettes to a peel covered with a piece of parchment paper. Use a razor blade or a very sharp knife to score each baguette with 3 cuts.
- Follow the procedure outlined in Preparing to Bake section for Steam (see below).
- Bake the baguettes with steam for 8 minutes then remove the stainless steel cover and bake for an additional 12 minutes, or until golden brown. May need to rotate the baguette for even browning halfway through.
- Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack and cool completely before eating.
* Couches are readily available online.
Preparing to Bake
Folding is a step we sometimes include in our yeasted dough recipes. We may recommend it intermittently during the bulk fermentation stage. Folding is necessary in high hydration doughs (high proportion of water relative to dry ingredients) as well as lightly mixed doughs. The process of folding helps build structure in the dough by organizing and aligning the gluten network. It’s an amazing little step that has an enormous positive impact on the strength of the dough.
To fold the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. For very wet doughs, make certain to have enough flour on the work surface to keep the dough from sticking, but avoid using too much flour.
Shape the dough into a rectangle. From right to left, fold the dough as you would a letter, bringing one third of the dough towards the left, and then pulling the remaining portion of the dough over the top. Now do the same vertically, by folding the top third towards the bottom and the bottom over the top.
Finally flip the ‘package’ of dough back over (seam side down) into the proofing container.
Repeat as necessary in the recipe. After the final fold, allow at least 30 minutes before dividing and pre-shaping the dough.
We use steam in our oven when we bake bread to keep the exterior of the bread supple as it has its oven jump and expands. Without steam, it’s possible that the crust of the bread will start to form before the crumb has expanded to its full capacity. The result will be a tighter crumb than is optimal.
Have several ice cubes ready. Holding the peel in one hand, open the oven door, carefully place the ice cubes in the cast iron skillet and slide the loaves onto the baking stone. Carefully place the stainless steel bowl or aluminum pan over the loaves, making certain that the edge of the bowl extends over the edge of the baking stone, allowing it to capture and contain the steam produced by the ice cubes evaporating. Close the oven door and set a timer for 15 minutes less than the lowest prescribed baking time. Remove the bowl or aluminum pan at this time.