French Baguette Recipe


One thing I miss in the US is good French bread especially baguette.
I grew up in France up to 22 years old, then moved to the US in 1998.

For baguette to be good it needs to be done right and be super fresh, it goes stale in as little as 24 hours so unless you live very close to one of the few good bakeries you are out of luck unless you make your own.

Over time I've learned how to make and cook my own baguette at home and once you are used to it it's actually quite easy. There are a few tips and tricks in here :)

This takes about 3 sessions of 5 minutes of work. (3+ hours counting resting time)

Ingredients


Ingredients for 2 baguettes. Feeds 4 (or 1 French).
  • 3 cups of quality flour. (375 grams)
  • About 1+ Cup of warm water (24+ centiliters)
  • 1/2 cup of milk. Can replace by water. (12 centiliters)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (8 grams)
  • 1 fresh bag of yeast, or 1 1/4 tsp. (6 grams)
  • 1 1/2 TBSP of sugar (8 grams)

The kind of flour used makes a huge difference ! For baguette I prefer white, unbleached flour. Whole wheat is alright but not my favorite for baguette. Definitely DO NOT use "bread machine" flour unless you want mushy "wonder bread" stuff.
I have had good results with the Trader Joe unbleached Flour or the "gold medal" flour available almost everywhere:

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The yeast is also a deal breaker, either the bag or jar are fine, just make sure it's fresh or all will be ruined.

Making the dough part 1


First thing I do is put ~1/2 cup of milk in a bowl, you can use water if you prefer but it seem to me the milk makes the yeast a bit "happier".
  • Microwave the milk 45 secs to make it warm.
  • Add the 1 1/4 tsp yeast
  • Add the 2 TBSP of flour.
  • Add the 1 1/2 TBSP of sugar.

Mix well and then let rest for at least 15mn. It should thicken and foam up quite a bit.

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Making the dough part 2


  • Place the flour(3 cups) in a mixer, ideally with a dough hook.
  • Add in the milk/yeast mix we made in the previous step.
  • Mix the warm water (1+ cup) and salt (1 1/2 tsp) together and add to mixing bowl.

Add the water slowly, and mix this until it forms a single dough "ball".
It should be a very sticky gooey ball, but not soup.
If too "liquid" just add more flour.
If not sticky or some flour didn't mix-in add water.

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Letting the dough rise


You can simply let the dough rise on it's own at room temperature, at least 1 hour, preferably 2, up to 5.
It should at least double in size.

Dough rises best in warm/humid conditions. If you live somewhere cool and/or dry this trick helps a lot, I always do this:
Microwave a cup of water in the microwave for 2 minutes, inside the microwave will be warm and humid now, put the dough to rise in there.

If you are not going to cook the bread today, you may place the dough in the fridge overnight, in a recipient covered with plastic so it won't form a hard shell. (24hr max).
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Forming the baguettes


  • Get the dough ball and split it in half.
  • Shape each half into a baguette(snake) shape, 18" long or so. Try to work the dough as little as possible while doing this. I grab one end and let gravity do a lot of the work.
  • Cut a few slits across the top (score with a sharp knife). That's not really necessary but it helps the baguette keep it's shape while it's cooking.
  • Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet (or baguette rack).
  • Let the dough rise again (1+ hour)

While it's not required, a perforated baguette rack really helps with cooking evenly , especially the underside ! I use this: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/8175283/
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Cooking the bread


  • Bring the oven to 450F (~ 235 Celcius)
  • Place the baguette on it's baking sheet or baguette rack in the oven
  • cook for about 18(rack) to 20mn(sheet) depending of how much "crunch" you want.

I like a lot of crunch, here is a tip that really really helps:
When starting the oven place a small metal dish on the bottom rack. Right after adding the bread in the oven (top rack), throw 3 or 4 ice cubes(be careful!) in the metal dish and close the oven. The steam in the oven will create an extra golden and crispy crust.
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