As I’ve said elsewhere, making baguettes that rival the best that bakeries have to offer is challenging, but it’s a fun challenge to attempt, and even less-than-perfect results will be better than anything you can get at a supermarket. Some of the challenges are overcome by memorizing and perfecting the many steps involved, which takes time and practice. Others involve simply investing in all the many tools baguettes require. While you can make an excellent boule-shaped loaf of bread using little more than a colander, a clean kitchen towel, a sharp knife, and a cast iron Dutch oven, all of which most cooks have on hand already, baguettes require speciality tools to pull off successfully. Fortunately, none are terribly expensive, and most are useful for making other sorts of breads too (and a few are things you might already have on hand). Here’s an inventory of everything you need to make baguettes at home.
A digital scale (or two!)
Baguettes, like other bread and baking recipes, require precise measuring of ingredients, which means you’ll want an accurate digital scale to make these. Most people can get by with a standard tabletop scale that reads in grams and weighs quantities up to 11 pounds. But serious bread bakers might also want to invest in an inexpensive pocket jeweler’s scale, since those are far more accurate when measuring sub-5-gram amounts of things, like yeast, salt, and diastatic malt powder.
A 13- by 9-inch rectangular cake pan
It’s important that the dough you use to make baguettes starts out in a more-or-less rectangular shape. When professional bakers make them, they begin by dividing a massive amount of dough into many rectangular baguette-sized portions, a relatively easy thing to do when working with a huge mass of dough. To achieve a similar effect at home, I like to cold-proof my dough in a rectangular 13- by 9-inch cake pan. The dough spreads out into a rectangle as it sits in the fridge, making it easy to divide into four fairly uniform pieces when it is turned out of the pan and onto a floured countertop later on. (You can also use any similarly-sized container, if you have one, like a rectangular snap-top plastic storage container.)
A bench scraper
To divide the dough into portions and to move the dough pieces around gently enough to avoid marring their shape, you want to use a metal bench scraper. (Bench scrapers are also useful for, well, scraping benches, something you’ll have to do once all the baguettes are in the oven.)
San Francisco Baking Institute
“Artisan“-style breads are usually proofed upside-down, in containers that help them hold their final shape (without the container, doughs will spread out as they proof and go blobby). Baguettes are usually proofed in the folds of a floured linen cloth known in French as a couche. Coarse, heavy linen is the fabric of choice for couches because it has enough heft to stay upright when pleated, and the right sort of texture to wick moisture away from the dough without also attaching itself to it.
Couches come in a variety of lengths and widths, but it is important to find one sized appropriately. The ideal dimensions of a home-scale couche are 17 inches wide and at least 20 inches long. I prefer the 18-inch wide couches from the San Francisco Baking Institute, because they are sized to fit a half-sheet. You could make your own couche if you can find a bolt of the right grade of linen, but pre-cut ones with hemmed edges that won’t fray aren’t all that more expensive than DIY versions.
A clean, plastic garbage bag
To keep doughs and shaped loaves from drying out as they rest or proof, bakeries keep them on rolling racks, covered with plastic. At home, you can use a clean plastic garbage bag instead. I keep a couple of them rolled up with my baking tools and reuse them over and over again. (The bag never touches the loaves directly, so there’s no need for concern about food safety or to clean them afterwards.)
Proofed baguettes ready to bake are too floppy and fragile to move to a baking peel. Instead, you need to use a thin, stiff, beveled-edge wooden board known as a transfer peel (or a “flipper board,” as they are sometimes called). Again, a transfer peel is definitely something a handy person could fashion themselves, but commercial ones are inexpensive. They are a specialty item you’ll most likely need to order online.
Bakers use an ultra-thin, ultra-sharp razor blade on a handle known as a lame (pronounced lahm) to score breads. For baguettes, you ideally want to use a curved-blade lame rather than a straight one, because the former is easier to orient at an extreme angle to the dough, which in turn helps to cut a “flap” of dough that will form a dramatic ear once the loaf is baked. (That said, a straight-bladed lame can work here too.) Most lames use replaceable, disposable double-edged shaving razor blades, which you can find at any drugstore. Be sure to start with a brand-new razor blade for maximum sharpness because razor blades dull far more quickly than you’d think; replace the blade regularly too. Lames are available at baking specialty stores or online.
In order to achieve an open, tender crumb and a crisp crust, baguettes need to bake quickly. For this reason, they are usually baked at a high temperature (500˚F) on a preheated baking stone, which pumps heat into the core of the loaf to encourage rapid oven spring (loaf expansion). If you don’t have either of these yet, you’ll need to get one before you begin.
I don’t really recommend using a baking steel for baguettes. Steels are great baking tools because they are more conductive than stone and push heat more rapidly into the loaf. But with fast-cooking baguettes, this can be a liability, since they can burn before they are fully baked. If it is all you have, then you might want to set a baking sheet below the baguettes to insulate them, especially after you’ve removed the foil pan at the tail end of the bake.
Disposable turkey roasting pan and aluminum foil
Professional baguette bakers use steam-injected bread ovens to keep the exterior of the loaves moist at the start of the bake, for maximum oven spring and to produce the baguette’s signature crisp, crumb-scattering crust. Steaming round or long-but-compact loaves in a home oven is easy to do by baking them inside of a Dutch oven or a dedicated bread pot—the container corrals moisture that evaporates from the dough, enveloping the loaf with steam—but there are no similar options that can comfortably hold a 14ish-inch long baguette. My workaround is to instead bake the baguettes underneath an upside-down disposable 17- by 13-inch turkey roasting pan wrapped tightly with aluminum foil. (After the baguettes have expanded fully and the crust has begun to set, the pan is removed to let the loaves finish browning and crisp up.)
You’ll also need a wide, flat pizza peel to load and unload the baguettes to and from the oven. While just about any sort will do, as long as it is at least 12 inches wide and long, I prefer a thin-bladed aluminum one myself, since it is lightweight and thin enough to slip under breads easily. In a pinch, a rimless cookie sheet can work quite well, though it obviously lacks the handle you get with a dedicated peel.
Diastatic malt powder
While baguettes can be made with flours, salt, and instant yeast that you can find in most supermarkets, and water from the tap, there is one optional specialty ingredient you might want to get your hands on: diastatic malt powder. Not to be confused with malt sugar, non-diastatic malt powder, malt syrup, or malted milk powder (all of which are sugars), diastatic malt powder, is an enzyme made from malted barley or wheat that breaks down starches into simple sugars. In flour, diastatic malt serves to provide a steady supply of sugar, to drive fermentation during proofing and caramelization in the heat of the oven.
Diastatic malt is usually added to commercial flours in the mill—it’s often listed as “malted barley” or “barley flour” in the ingredients—in order to ensure a uniform, consistent amount from bag to bag. Adding a little extra diastatic malt to long-fermented doughs like this baguette ensures that there will always be enough sugar around to achieve dramatic and rapid browning during baking.
A little bit of diastatic malt goes a long way, so buy it in small quantities if you can. And it loses enzymatic activity over time, especially when exposed to moisture or heat, so store it in a sealable container like a mason jar in a cool spot (or even in the freezer).
How do you make baguettes at home?
We have a step-by-step recipe for homemade baguettes that can be found here.
Do you need a baking stone or steel for baguettes?
For baking baguettes, we recommend getting a baking stone, not a steel. A baking steel will push too much heat into a baguette, which will cause it to burn before it bakes through.
Why It Works
- Baking the baguettes underneath an inverted disposable foil roasting pan, wrapped tightly with a sheet of foil, helps steam the loaves to produce its signature crisp, crackly crust.
- Adding a small amount of sifted whole wheat flour to the dough mimics the type of flour used in France for baguettes and gives the bread a buff color and a wheatier flavor.
- Fermenting the dough overnight in the fridge develops deeper flavor while also splitting the work up over two days.
- Adding diastatic malt—an enzyme that helps convert starches into sugar—to the dough guarantees browning, even after a long fermentation.
At some point in every amateur bread baker’s life comes the desire to tackle the baguette, and for good reason: Great baguettes are hard to come by outside of France. The name baguette means “wand” or “stick,” referring to its long, slender shape. The bread is a relatively modern invention, first arising in the late-nineteenth century and achieving its familiar form and character around 1920. Despite its relatively young age, it didn’t take long for the baguette to become a significant symbol of French culture, which was recently recognized by UNESCO when it added the baguette ot its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
With a dull flavor, soft crust, and a cottony, dense interior, supermarket baguettes (laden with chemicals to prevent staling) are terrible, insulting facsimiles of “les vrais choses”, or the real things. And even those baguettes made in top-notch bakeries—should you have one nearby—lose their magic within a few hours after baking, never to be recovered.
That’s because baguettes are inescapably ephemeral things. Unlike most other breads, they are more crust than crumb, and as such, exceedingly quick to stale. Other high-crust ratio breads like rolls contain fats or other ingredients to help stave off staling, but a real baguette should be made from nothing other than flour, water, yeast, and salt. A well-made one is at its peak minutes after it leaves the oven and begins to degrade soon thereafter. Which means that—unless you have a bakery nearby that bakes them regularly throughout the day—it makes more sense to bake them at home.
Or it would, except for the fact that baguettes are also one of the hardest breads for the home baker to learn to make, mostly thanks to the many complicated shaping steps involved. Practice makes perfect in all things, especially when it comes to baguettes, and it’s hard for a home baker to notch enough of them for the skill to become second nature. My best advice to anyone wanting to nail the baguette? Land a job at a bakery and make several hundred of them a week for a few years. Barring that, find a good recipe and just practice, practice, practice.
I speak from experience here: I’ve been trying to perfect my baguette for years now, and I continue to fail more often than I succeed. Nevertheless, I still think it’s worth the effort, and I encourage you to give it a go. Your failures, like mine, will be mostly aesthetic in nature and delicious, despite outward imperfections. And if you are like me, you’ll find the challenge a source of fun rather than frustration.
If all that hasn’t scared the idea of baguette-making out of you entirely, good news: I have a recipe for you to work with. It’s one I’ve refined over many years and designed to be as simple as possible while still capable of making a superlative baguette.
The Hallmarks of a Great Baguette
- A thin, delicately crisp crust that shatters easily when cut or compressed, with a deep red-golden brown hue. Basically, if your baguette doesn’t make a mess of your shirt front, send it back.
- A tender internal crumb displaying a chaotic, irregular mixture of alveoli (another word for the bubbles or holes in a loaf of bread) of various sizes from tiny to large. Some bakers call this a “wild” crumb, and it is considered a sign of proper dough fermentation and a careful approach to dough handling. A baguette that is “bien alvéolé” (e.g., with an open, wild crumb) isn’t merely about aesthetics: Much of the flavor in this simple bread comes from fermentation, so you can’t really have one without the other.
- Scores that opened dramatically during the bake to allow the loaf to expand fully and evenly along its length, displaying a variety of hues from buff on the insides to deeply caramelized on the outside edges. Good expansion on the exterior is more than mere aesthetics, since it also helps open up the internal structure to produce that coveted wild crumb.
- A symmetrical, pleasing outline. This can vary depending upon the number of cuts: A single slash down the center will create a near-perfect cylinder, while multiple overlapping cuts give a baguette that classic “beanpod” shape.
- A nutty, wheaty, buttery, and pleasantly fermented aroma and flavor, inside and out.
While it is really only the final shaping steps in baguettes that are challenging to learn, there are a ton of moving parts to the entire process, and I think it makes sense to break it down element-by-element and step-by-step.
Like I said, a real baguette contains nothing more than flour, water, yeast, and salt. Here’s what goes into my formula, and why:
High-protein all-purpose flour: Most French baguettes are made with a medium-protein flour (11 to 12%) for the proper crisp, yet tender texture. This percentage straddles the line between most American all-purpose flours and bread flours, but King Arthur all-purpose flour (the one in the red bag), with its higher-than-normal 11.7% protein, actually makes an excellent baguette flour. If you can’t find that one for some reason, use bread flour instead.
Sifted whole wheat flour: In France, refined “white” flours contain more bran and germ than do American ones, which gives their loaves a golden-hued crumb and a wheatier, more complex flavor. Adding 5% whole wheat flour—sifted through a standard fine-mesh strainer to remove most of the larger particles of gluten-degrading bran it contains—to the all-purpose flour gives the baguette a similar flavor and appearance.
Diastatic malt powder: Not to be confused with malt sugar, non-diastatic malt powder, malt syrup, or malted milk powder (all of which are sugars), diastatic malt powder, also known as diastase, is an enzyme made from malted barley or wheat, that breaks down starches into simple sugars. It is naturally present in grains and used by the just-sprouted plant to access the energy stored up in its core. In flour, diastatic malt serves to provide a steady supply of sugar, to drive fermentation during proofing and caramelization in the heat of the oven.
Diastatic malt is usually added to commercial flours in the mill—it’s often listed as “malted barley” or “barley flour” in the ingredients—in order to ensure a uniform, consistent amount from bag to bag. Adding a little extra diastatic malt to long-fermented doughs like this baguette ensures that there will always be enough sugar around to achieve dramatic browning during baking.
Diastatic malt powder is a specialty item only available at baking supply stores or online. If you don’t have any yet, I’ve made it optional in the formula so you can just leave it out for now, it won’t make or break your baguettes.
Water: Baguettes, with their tender and open internal crumb, require a relatively high hydration (a high ratio of water to flour by weight). My formula has a hydration of 73% (this falls in line with other rustic breads like sourdough), which is as high as possible, yielding a dough that is not sticky or hard to handle.
Yeast: Compared to other bread formulas, this recipe contains a relatively small amount of yeast. That’s because it gets a long, cold fermentation in the fridge, rather than a quick room-temperature one. Dialing down the yeast and slowing down the proof encourages the production of more of the aromatic side-products of dough fermentation—acids, alcohols, esters, and other organic molecules—to develop complex flavor.
Another way baguettes differ from most other breads is the sheer number of tools they require. A few of these are things you probably have on hand or can get easily; others are specialty items you’ll need to seek out.
Rectangular cake pan: When professional bakers make baguettes, they begin by dividing a massive amount of dough into many rectangular baguette-sized portions, a relatively easy thing to do when working with a huge mass of dough (plus having smaller portions makes it far easier to coax the dough into a uniform cylinder without overworking or degassing it). To achieve a similar effect at home, I cold-proof the dough in a rectangular 13- by 9-inch cake pan. The dough spreads out into a rectangle as it sits in the fridge, making it easy to divide into four more-or-less uniform pieces when it is turned out of the pan and onto a floured countertop later on.
Couche: To maintain their uniform cylindrical shape and to prevent them from touching one another, the shaped baguettes need to proof within the folds of a floured linen cloth known in French as a couche. Coarse, heavy linen is the fabric of choice for couches because it has enough heft to stay upright when pleated, and the right sort of texture to wick moisture away from the dough without also attaching itself to it. The ideal dimensions of a home-scale couche are 17 inches wide and at least 20 inches long. I prefer the 18-inch wide couches from the San Francisco Baking Institute, because they are sized to fit a half-sheet. You could make your own couche if you can find a bolt of the right grade of linen, but pre-cut ones with hemmed edges that won’t fray aren’t all that more expensive than DIY versions. If you don’t want to invest in a couche just yet, the next best option is a large linen tea towel.
Clean plastic garbage bag: To keep the dough from drying out as they rest or proof, bakeries keep them inside covered rolling racks. At home, you can use clean plastic garbage bags instead.
Transfer peel: Once the baguettes are proofed, they are too floppy and fragile to move to a baking peel. Instead, you want to use a thin, stiff, beveled-edge wooden board known as a transfer peel. To use one, you use the transfer peel to roll a baguette over on the couche, use the couche to roll the baguette onto the transfer peel, then roll the baguette off of the transfer peel onto a sheet of parchment and use the peel to fine-tune its position, if needed. At first, all the flipping and flopping might seem like overkill, but in truth it is the gentlest and most effective way to move a baguette from one place to another. (It’s also why a transfer peel is sometimes known as a “flipper board.”) Again, a transfer peel is definitely something a handy person could fashion themselves, but commercial ones are inexpensive. They are a specialty item you’ll most likely need to order online.
Curved-blade lame: Bakers use an ultra-thin, ultra-sharp razor blade on a handle known as a lame (pronounced lahm) to score breads. For baguettes, you ideally want to use a curved-blade lame rather than a straight one, because the former is easier to orient at an extreme angle to the dough, which in turn helps to cut a “flap” of dough that will form a dramatic ear once the loaf is baked. (That said, a straight-bladed lame can work here too.) Be sure to start with a brand-new razor blade for maximum sharpness because razor blades dull far more quickly than you’d think. Lames are available at baking specialty stores or online.
Baking stone: In order to achieve an open, tender crumb and a crisp crust, baguettes need to bake quickly. For this reason, they are usually baked at a high temperature (500˚F) on a preheated baking stone, which pumps heat into the core of the loaf to encourage rapid oven spring (loaf expansion). If you don’t have either of these yet, you’ll need to get one before you begin.
I don’t recommend using a baking steel for baking baguettes, because the oven temperature is so high and they can have a tendency to burn on one. If it is all you have, then you might want to set a baking sheet below the baguettes to insulate them, especially after you’ve removed the foil pan in Step 18 of the recipe below.
Disposable turkey roasting pan and aluminum foil: Professional baguette bakers use steam-injected bread ovens to keep the exterior of the loaves moist at the start of the bake, for maximum oven spring and to produce the baguette’s signature crisp, crumb-scattering crust. At home, I have found that the best way to mimic these conditions is to bake the baguettes underneath an upside-down disposable 17- by 13-inch turkey roasting pan wrapped tightly with aluminum foil. I’ve been using the upside-down foil roasting pan for years now, but I only thought of sealing the container with a sheet of foil while developing this recipe, and it was a game-changer. (After the baguettes have expanded fully and the crust has begun to set, the pan is removed to let the loaves finish browning and crisp up.) This works identically to baking larger loaves in a covered Dutch oven—the container corrals moisture that evaporates from the dough, enveloping the loaf with steam. It’s a bit of a chore to do, but it’s well worth the effort. Trust me, I’ve tried every oven steaming approach possible, and this is far superior to any of the alternatives.
Pizza peel: If you are here, I’m guessing you already have a pizza peel to use for loading and unloading the baguettes. Just about any sort will do, as long as it is at least 12 inches wide and long. (I prefer a thin-bladed aluminum one myself.) If not, you can always use a rimless baking sheet or the back of a rimmed one instead (the latter won’t work for unloading, but the baked baguettes can be moved around with a pair of long-handled tongs).
There are a lot of stages to baguette making, though—shaping aside—none of them are especially complicated, especially with this formula, which I deliberately kept as simple as possible without compromising on results.
Mixing: One of the main ways to get that desirably irregular, open crumb is to let the dough do its own thing during fermentation. For that reason, my formula is light on manipulation: It’s mixed quickly by hand and folded just once after 30 minutes to even out its texture. There’s no need for kneading, since—as in other “no-knead” recipes—the long fermentation allows the dough’s gluten to develop passively.
Room-temperature proof: Before the dough can be moved into the fridge, the fermentation needs to get solidly underway; in my formula, it sits at room temperature until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in volume. This can take anywhere from one to two hours after the fold, depending upon ambient temperatures. After that, it gets pressed gently into the lightly-oiled cake pan, covered tightly, and then moved to the refrigerator.
Cold-proofing: There are a million ways to make a baguette dough, but the best of them usually involve an extended period of fermentation at some stage to develop flavor. Oftentimes this involves the use of a preferment, a portion of dough that has fermented ahead of its inclusion in a dough. (A sponge, which you may be familiar with, is a colloquial name for one type of preferment.) This recipe instead uses an en bac (or “in a container” in French) approach, where the entire batch of dough gets a long, cool fermentation. This is my preferred method for baguettes, since it is both convenient and flexible: Convenient because you make the dough on one day and bake the baguettes the next, and flexible because there is a relatively wide window of time, 15 to 48 hours, during which the dough is ready to use.
To start, you want to flour the top of the dough inside the pan, then gently turn it out onto a lightly-floured countertop. To maintain the dough’s rectangular shape, use a bench scraper to detach it from the sides of the pan as needed, then invert the pan over the counter at an angle to let it slowly peel off. If necessary, you can reach under with a hand and gently separate the end of the dough from the pan; the rest usually comes off on its own. After that, flour the top of the dough lightly, restore its rectangular shape if necessary, then divide it into four pieces of near equal weight and shape. (The more uniform they are at this stage, the easier it will be to keep them uniform later on.) Carefully return two of the pieces to the pan, separated from one another by at least a few inches, cover the pan tightly, and return it to the fridge to bake later on. Finally, separate the remaining two pieces from one another, then cover them loosely with a clean plastic garbage bag (or another cake pan if you have one.)
Warming up: Because cold doughs are stiff and hard to shape, the dough needs to warm up before starting the shaping process. It shouldn’t warm up completely, however; the goal is to just take a little of the chill off and get it between 50˚ and 55˚F, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, depending on ambient temperatures.
Preparing the couche: In a bakery, couches are in constant use on a daily basis, which means they are saturated with enough moisture to keep them stiff enough to stand upright when pleated. For home bakers with couches that are brand-new or that see only occasional use, the trick is to mist the couche lightly with water using a spray bottle. You then center it, misted side down, over a rimmed baking sheet (or a rimless cookie sheet), and roll up the ends until there’s no overhang. You then dust the exposed surface of the couche with flour lightly but evenly, preferably using a small fine-mesh sieve.
Countertop management: Shaping many breads, and baguettes especially, uses the friction of the dough against the countertop to develop tension. This means that you need to be careful not to flour the work surface excessively, or the dough will just slide around freely. I like to use a “flour station” approach for flour management: Instead of dusting the area I’m working in with flour, I dust a section of counter adjacent to it, either to the side or the rear. Then whenever the dough piece seems like it is getting sticky, I lift it up and drop it gently into the floured area to give it a light coating of flour, then return it to the unfloured area to continue shaping.
Preshaping: Most breads get shaped in a three-phase process: an initial preshape, a brief rest to let the dough relax, and a final shaping. This sequence is especially important when it comes to baguettes. You cannot brute force an amorphous blob of dough into a 14-inch long, uniformly-round cylinder in one go; the gluten in the dough will tighten up long before you get it there, leaving it misshapen, and you’ll knock out all the gas it contains, ruining its internal structure. Instead, you want to coax it along gradually and gently by first delicately folding the rectangle of dough into thirds like a business letter in one direction, then repeating again in the other direction. This turns the dough into a small, uniform loaf shape that can be easily manipulated into a cylinder after it relaxes for 20 minutes or so.
Final shaping: Similar to preshaping, the final shaping of baguettes involves a stepwise movement from short rectangle to long tube, with each step in the sequence elongating the dough gradually and evenly. For the beginner, it’s this complicated set of movements that takes the most repetition to become second nature. It’s easier to demonstrate than it is to explain, but here they are, one after the other:
- One: You gently pat the rectangle beneath your flattened hand, to even out the thickness of the dough and elongate it slightly in both directions.
- Two: You fold the top third of dough toward the center (the long way) and then seal the flap of dough to the dough beneath it, working your fingertips along the line where they meet. (Try not to compress the newly-formed roll of dough itself; only push down along the seam.)
- Three: You rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat, to yield a rectangle of dough with a slight trough along its center line where the two flaps overlap.
- Four: You place the thumb of your non-dominant hand into the opposite end of the trough, gently anchoring the dough in place against the countertop. Using your other hand, you fold the dough in half over itself (and your thumb) and gently seal the back edge of the dough to the front edge. You then move your thumb an inch or so further down the trough and repeat, working your way along the log of dough until you reach the other end. (One note: You want to avoid sealing the ends of the log at this stage, since that can trap overly large bubbles of air in the core of the loaf.)
- Five: You place the palm of one hand on the center of the log and stack the other hand directly atop it. Then you gently roll the log forward and back under your hands to compress the center slightly. Starting in the center forces internal bubbles toward the ends of the log.
- Six: You then move your hands apart in opposite directions, rolling the log beneath them, expanding it lengthwise. If necessary, you return both hands to the center and repeat until the log attains the appropriate length, 14 to 15 inches, in the case of a home-oven sized baguette, or what in France would be called a demi-baguette. It’s best to elongate the log gradually rather than in one go. Again, don’t seal the two ends until it is fully elongated.
- Seven: You roll the ends of the log under your palms in opposite directions to form sharp points. It’s best to over-emphasize the points, because they tend to soften as the bread proofs.
- Eight: You look for the seam (sometimes it can be hard to see), and then you set the log onto the floured couche, seam side up. (Seam side up because you always want the proofing container to cradle the top of the loaf, and because that allows you to keep track of it, so that you can bake the loaf seam side down.)
- Nine: You pleat the couche around the loaf, cover the couche with a clean plastic trash bag, and move onto the next one. Once both baguettes in the set are shaped, you fold the ends of the couche over them and fold the ends of the bag under the pan to enclose it fully.
Proofing the baguettes: The shaped baguettes proof at room temperature until they are puffy and a poke with a finger leaves a depression that springs back slowly. (If the loaf is underproofed, the depression will spring back quickly; if it is overproofed, it likely won’t spring back at all.) This can take anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes, depending upon ambient temperatures. While they proof, preheat the oven and baking stone to 500˚F.
Preparing the foil “Dutch oven”: In order to fully enclose the loaves within the foil roasting pan, you start by setting a 20- by 18-inch sheet of aluminum foil on the counter and centering a 16- by 12-inch sheet of parchment over it.
Transferring the baguettes to the parchment: I explained how to use the transfer peel above, but here it is in a bit more detail: First, you unpleat the couche to separate the loaves, then use the transfer peel to roll the first baguette over, seam side down. You then wedge the peel under the long edge of the baguette, lift the loose end of the couche in your other hand, and then use it to roll the baguette over onto the board, seam side up. Finally, you roll the baguette over one last time onto the sheet of parchment and then use the transfer peel to fine-tune its position and straighten it out, if needed. You then repeat the sequence with the second baguette.
Scoring the baguette: The classic baguette score is a series of overlapping slashes that are just barely angled off the centerline of the loaf. As the scores expand, they form the almond-shaped openings that give a baguette its distinctive “beanpod” shape.
But this is a difficult scoring method to pull off, requiring lots and lots of practice. For beginners, I recommend just making a single slash down the centerline of the loaf. The results can be just as dramatic and beautiful, and it is pretty easy to pull off.
The goal of scoring a baguette is to create a flap of dough that peels back from the loaf as it expands, to form an “ear.” To do so, you want to hold the lame with the cup of the blade facing up, at about a 30-degree angle to the dough. And to prevent the blade from catching on the dough, you want to also angle the handle of the lame away from the loaf, so only the very tip of the blade is doing the work. (Learning to orient your hand and the lame correctly and consistently is one of the things that only comes with extensive practice.) To keep the loaf from moving while you make the slash, anchor it gently but firmly in place by grasping the sides of the loaf with the thumb and index finger of your other hand.
Some bakers insist that the correct method for scoring breads is backhand, with the tip of the blade pointing away from you. I learned it forehand, working from the back side of the loaf, with the tip pointing toward myself, and I can’t unlearn it. (Clearly, either way works.)
Closing the foil “Dutch oven”: Next, you set the roasting pan over the baguettes and then roll the overhanging foil over the rim to seal the packet completely. Then you slide a pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet) under the foil packet and transfer the whole thing to the baking stone and set a timer for 10 minutes.
Removing the foil: Once the 10 minutes are up, you carefully remove the foil packet from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Then, very carefully use a pair of tongs (or your hands) to open one corner of the foil to release any remaining steam, making sure to stand back when you do so! Finish uncrimping the foil completely, and remove the pan.
Browning the baguettes: Finally, you return the two loaves to the baking stone for 8 to 10 minutes to brown, rotating them from back to front halfway through baking. Be sure to let them reach an even, deep red-brown color for maximum crispness and a deeply caramelized flavor.
Cooling: At this point, you might be tempted to rip into one of your baguettes as soon as they are cool enough to handle, especially if it is from one of your first attempts, but resist the temptation if you can! Their texture will actually improve as they cool, since the crust will be dry and hard when it first comes out of the oven. As it sits, the crust will absorb moisture from the interior of the loaf to attain the ideal shattery-crisp texture. The flavor of the baguette will improve over time, too, since aromas from the caramelized crust will penetrate deeper into the crumb.
Learning to make a great baguette requires a lot of tools, skills, and practice, and is definitely not for the beginner nor the faint of heart. Getting there will take time, and your first few attempts are likely to fall short (though they’ll probably still be tasty!). There are few breads that are as rewarding to tackle, both for the satisfaction of having done a difficult thing, and because eating a well-crafted and freshly-baked one is a sublime experience, hard to come by any other way.
56g ( ) sifted r (see note)
(3 1/3 cups) high-protein all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur (see note)
(4 teaspoons) Diamond Crystal ; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
(heaping 1/4 teaspoon) diastatic malt powder, optional (see note)
(1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon) , 75˚F (24°C)
Kitchen scale, water mister bottle, linen couche, transfer peel, rimless cookie sheet or rimmed baking sheet, clean plastic garbage bag, parchment paper, wide pizza peel (or second rimless cookie sheet), baking stone, lame, disposable aluminum 17- by 13-inch roasting pan, wire rack, dough whisk
For best results, weigh the flours and water for this recipe.
For sifted whole wheat flour, sift whole wheat flour through a standard fine-mesh strainer to remove most of the larger particles of gluten-degrading bran it contains. You can discard the bran in the strainer or save for another use.
If a high-protein all-purpose flour like King Arthur is unavailable, use bread flour instead.
Diastatic malt powder is an enzyme used to promote browning in cold fermented doughs. It can be sourced from bakery supply stores online. Be sure to get diastatic malt powder; sweeteners like malt sugar, malt syrup, and malted milk powder are not appropriate substitutes.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Baguettes are best consumed within 4 hours of baking.
Make your own crunchy baguette at home.
This is how to make a crunchy French baguette at home, using basic supermarket ingredients and the simplest technique.
For a standard baguette or a chunkier demi baguette (half a baguette)
250 g (7 oz) white bread flour
175 g (6.2 oz) water (see formula in the video for temperature)
5 g (0.2 oz) of sea salt
3 g of instant dry yeast
Cooking time: 20 to 25 minutes depending on how well cooked you want the bread to be.
Cooking method: Temperature 255°C (about 490°F) with steam. To create steam, place a container with water at the bottom of your oven and let it heat up until lots of steam is released.
Hydration level: the amount of water used for the flour is typically 70 percent of the flour weight. But keep in mind that certain types of flour, like a stoneground flour for instance, will absorb more water so you may have to use a bit more water than the standard measure for your dough (a ratio of 75 percent of the flour weight should do).
What makes a good Baguette? It’s the quality of the ingredients, water (mineral or spring water yields best results). salt (good quality natural salt or sea salt) and use fresh bakers’ yeast or industry grade dry yeast.
Ensure the correct dough temperature after kneading. This is calculated using what is called the base temperature reference. In French this is called the TB (temperature de base).
Mastering the dough temperature: the base temperature is a value in degrees centigrade that is used to calculate the temperature which your water needs to be when making a bread dough for a baguette. This calculation allows you to get an ideal temperature after kneading which sits between 23-25°C (between 73-77°F).
TB Formula (to calculate temperature of water added to knead the dough). The Base Temperature number is 65 °C (149°F). Take the room temperature and the temperature of the flour. Then add the two together and deduct the total of the two from 65°C (149°F). The resulting number is the temperature in degrees centigrade for the water.
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Techniques Used: Pre-Ferment (Poolish), Stretch & Fold Method for Bread Making
I once heard a chef at a French bakery say that in France, an apprentice baker must make 10,000 baguettes before they can be considered competent at this skill. I say this not to scare you from making this iconic bread, but to help your perspective for how your first baguette attempt might look.
A classic baguette is extremely simple in regard to it’s ingredients. Water, flour, salt, and yeast are the only ingredients needed to make this delicious loaf of bread. However, there are two more “ingredients” that are heavily involved in the process: time and technique.
Made with a lean dough (no fat present), a French baguette features a chewy texture inside the loaf. The process of making an authentic French baguette takes time as well as an understanding of bread making techniques. The best way to perfect the baguette craft? Practice!
What makes French baguette so special?
Shape: French baguettes have a unique shape uncommon to other types of bread. Each loaf is long and thin with slits cut into the dough.
Texture: Baguettes are ultra crunchy and crispy on the outside with a pillowy soft interior.
- The French baguette is a symbol of France and its identity! So much so that this artisan bread has been given World Heritage Status by UNESCO.
Tips and Techniques
- To fully understand the process of making French baguette, read through the entire tutorial and recipe at least twice before getting started. This ensures a complete understanding of the timing and steps involved.
- While most of the special equipment used to make bread dough is optional and can be mimicked with other kitchen items, I highly recommend using a kitchen scale. A scale is a small investment and by far the best way to accurately measure ingredients for bread dough.
- Because of the long fermentation period, the water used in this recipe is slightly cooler (90°F/ 32°C) than in most bread recipes.
- French baguette dough is a very wet dough. Do not add more flour than the recipe calls for. Keep your fingers damp when working with the dough to prevent sticking.
- Due to the high hydration ratio, this dough is essentially a no-knead bread. In order to form the gluten structure that kneading produces, this dough ferments for a long period of time with several brief stretch and folds throughout.
How to Make French Baguette
There are many ways to approach making French baguette. The technique we are using today produces artisan loaves that have a thin, crispy crust with characteristic large holes in the chewy center.
Note: I prefer to use instant yeast (also known as quick-rise or rapid rise yeast) for my baguettes because it increases oven spring and creates a beautiful texture. However, you can also use active dry yeast with a longer fermentation period – see recipe notes.
Mix the Poolish
Most French baguette recipes begin with a baguette starter, also known as a pre-ferment. To accomplish this, some of the water, some of the flour, and a little bit of yeast is mixed together and allowed to ferment before the final dough is mixed.
This recipe utilizes a poolish, which is a French pre-ferment that has a high ratio of water to flour. The advantage of adding a poolish to the dough is that it greatly improves the flavor and texture of the dough. Mix the poolish together at least 6 hours before (and up to 10 hours before) making the dough. I recommend doing this step the night before making the bread.
Mix the Dough
After the poolish has fermented, combine it with the rest of the dough ingredients. A baguette is a lean dough so it only contains 4 ingredients: water, flour, yeast, and salt.
Start by stirring all of your ingredients together. Once it becomes difficult to stir, go in with a clean hand and start squeezing and massaging the dough all over until all of the flour is hydrated. It will seem like there isn’t enough water at first, but be patient – the dough will come together. Do not add more flour or water. At this point, the dough will look shaggy – do not knead it after all of the flour is hydrated.
The Stretch & Fold
Baguette dough is a very wet (high hydration) dough. Because of this, we do not knead the dough (as we do with many other bread doughs). Instead, the dough slowly ferments with a series of brief stretch and folds.
The stretch and fold technique serves three purposes: re-distributes heat within the dough, puts yeast back in contact with its food source, and layers the gluten to build the gluten structure within the dough.
The dough will ferment for 2 hours total, with 3 rounds of brief stretch and folds every 30 minutes. To stretch and fold the dough, lightly dampen your fingers (to avoid dough sticking to them) and pull up on the side of the dough and fold it back down on itself. Turn the bowl 90° and repeat. Do this until you have stretched and folded all 4 sides of the dough. Turn the dough over, cover, and allow it to ferment for 30 more minutes until the next round.
Prepare the Oven
For baguettes, you’ll need a surface to bake the loaves on (a baking stone or baking steel) as well as a surface to create steam. If you do not have a baking stone or baking steel, use a sheet pan turned upside down. Position the baking surface on the middle rack of your oven.
To create steam in the oven, preheat a cast iron pan, roasting pan, or other oven-proof skillet on the very bottom rack. The skillet should be so hot that when you throw ice cubes into it, they immediately start evaporating and create steam. Steam helps with oven spring and the texture of the bread.
Preheat the oven (with the baking surface and skillet inside) for at least 30 minutes before baking so that every part of it is extremely hot.
Pre-Shape and Rest the Dough
After the dough has fermented, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Next, pre-shape the dough. Pre-shaping the dough starts creating tension in the dough so that it rises up instead of spreading out while it bakes.
To pre-shape the dough (working one half of dough at a time), pat the dough into a rectangle and pull out on the short sides. Bring the short sides into the center and press with your fingertips to seal. Then bring the long ends into the center and press to seal. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes to let the gluten relax before the final shaping.
Shape the Dough
After the dough has rested, shape the dough by folding down on the long sides and sealing in the center several times until a tight log forms. Keep your fingers damp while doing this to prevent the dough from sticking.
With the seam side down, roll each log of dough into 14 inch (35 cm) long loaves. Transfer the shaped loaves, seam side down, to a lightly floured lint-free cloth or baker’s couche to rest. Push the cloth up and around each loaf to create folds that will help the dough hold its shape.
Let the Baguettes Rise
Cover the baguettes and let them rise until about double in size. This should take about 45 minutes.
Transfer & Score the Baguettes
Once the baguettes have risen, transfer them onto a parchment lined pizza peel, flat un-rimmed baking sheet, or sheet pan turned upside down. This way, you can slide the parchment right onto the hot baking surface.
To transfer the dough, use a baguette board or a small cutting board. I have a small wooden cutting board that I use. Flip the baguette onto the board by pulling up on the towel and flipping it back onto the parchment paper.
Using a sharp knife or a bread lame (a bread lame is a razor blade on the end of a stick), score the top of the baguettes. The cuts should be going vertical at a slight angle down the baguette about ¼ inch (0.5 cm) deep.
Bake the Baguettes
Fill a bowl with about 2 cups of ice cubes and set it near the oven. You will need to work quickly and carefully.
Open the oven and slide the parchment with the baguettes onto the preheated surface. Pour the ice cubes into the hot skillet and quickly close the oven door. Bake the baguettes until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.
Perfecting the art of making artisan homemade French baguettes takes practice. But even imperfect baguettes taste incredible and each attempt unveils a deeper understanding of the process.
- The Professional Pastry Chef
- Flour, Salt, Water, Yeast
- On Food and Cooking
- How to Make Baguette (tutorial from Breadtopia)
Can I use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour?
All-purpose flour can technically be used for baguettes, creating a soft, airy crumb. However, for a traditional chewy and crusty baguette, use bread flour. Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour which adds chewiness. The French typically use flour with a protein content similar to bread flour (or even a little higher).
What can I do with stale baguette?
Homemade baguettes are best eaten the day they are baked. After that, they become hard and stale.
To refresh a stale baguette, run water over the bottom of the bread and place it directly into a 400°F/ 205°C oven for about 10 minutes. Adding moisture directly to the loaf creates steam in the oven and softens the bread while also crisping the crust.
An alternate to refreshing stale baguette is to use the bread in a new recipe. Slice the stale bread into cubes and use the cubes to make panzanella (chopped salad made with stale bread), Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing, or homemade croutons!
How to store French Baguette
Room temperature: Baguettes are best eaten on the same day they are baked. If you do have leftover baguette, wrap it tightly in foil and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Freezer: Let the baked baguette cool completely, then place in a zipper freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Cut the loaf if necessary to fit in the bag. To refresh the frozen loaf, wrap in aluminum foil and place into the oven at 400°F / 205°C for 6 – 8 minutes until warm.