This simple straight dough French bread (not sourdough) is the perfect baguette recipe for new bread bakers.
Note: If you're a beginning bread baker, you might find my Ten Tips on How To Bake Better Artisan Breads at Home helpful. And if you've been longing to learn how to make your own sandwich bread, my popular Farmhouse White Easy Basic Sandwich Recipe (which can also be made with whole wheat flour) is a great place to start.
While e-mailing back and forth six years ago, I asked Daniel Leader, founder of the renowned Bread Alone Bakery in New York and my bread baking hero, to recommend a summer picnic bread from his new book, Local Breads. He immediately suggested I try the very first recipe, Parisian Daily Bread, or what he calls The Four Hour Baguette.
"It's simple, it's foolproof, and it's delicious," he said, and he was right. I've been baking it ever since.
I credit Daniel's wonderful first book, Bread Alone, with turning me into a bread baker, and I've been recommending it for years to anyone interested in learning how to bake their own bread. After 20 years it's still in print, and considering there are thousands of new cookbooks published each year, that's really saying something.
My original copy of Bread Alone is in four pieces. My second copy was signed and sent to me by Daniel himself when he learned my first one was falling apart, which of course thrilled me to no end. (Sidenote: one of my favorite novels is also called Bread Alone, written by my good friend and fellow Daniel Leader fan, Judi Hendricks.)
Fourteen years after he wrote Bread Alone, Daniel came out with Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers. It's the culmination of dozens of trips to Europe over two decades in search of bakers who are still using time-honored methods and ingredients to create loaves unique to their towns and cities. Part travelogue, part bread making class, and part gastronomic history lesson, the book is full of colorful stories of local artisans and 80 of their authentic treasured recipes.
Beginning bread bakers needn't shy away from Local Breads. The first 60 pages are packed with detailed information on equipment, ingredients, and techniques, all of it clearly written and easy to understand. Even better are the several dozen Q&As throughout the book, which are Daniel's responses to the questions most frequently asked by his students at the Culinary Institute of America and other places where he teaches bread making.
The only trouble you might have is ever making it past this first recipe.
Recipe below. . .
Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguettes
Makes 3 slender 10-ounce loaves, 12 to 14 inches long — Adapted slightly from Local Breads
Note: You can also double the recipe and make three 20-ounce loaves.
From Local Breads: A version of this straight dough baguette is produced by bakers all over Paris. The first batch goes out when the bakery opens in the morning at around seven o'clock, and a fresh batch is set out every 4 hours after that until closing time, at 8 p.m.
This is a lengthy recipe, but don't let that scare you away. It really is an easy bread to make, and the detailed instructions will allow even beginning bakers to produce beautiful, scrumptious loaves. The success of such a recipe lies in all the little details. After a few times the whole process will become second nature and you won't even need the instructions.
From first step to first bite really is under four hours. The recipe makes three 10-ounce baguettes that are the perfect size for slicing into rounds for appetizer-size crostini or bruschetta, or you can cut one in half lengthwise and make two lovely sandwiches.
This bread has a pleasantly chewy crust that becomes nice and crisp if reheated. It freezes beautifully and is the perfect kind of bread to have on hand since it's so versatile.
Organic flour makes wonderful bread and doesn't cost much more than regular flour. I buy instant yeast in economical 1-pound packages and store it in the freezer where it keeps for over a year.
A baker's peel (also called a pizza peel) is optional but very handy for loading and unloading bread from the oven. I have several different peels and prefer the wood-handled aluminum ones the best; I recommend buying the largest size you can.
A baking stone is a must. It will simulate a stone hearth in your oven and is the secret to making bakery-style artisan loaves and fantastic homemade pizza. It allows your breads to bake more evenly, and the initial, intense burst of heat on the cold dough will help to create high, richly colored loaves and chewy, better-tasting crusts. My baking stone is 14"x15" and I've been using it for 18 years. I even bake all of my loaf pans of sandwich bread on it.
Steam in the oven during the first part of baking slows crust formation, which allows for the best possible oven "spring." It also gelatinizes the starch on the surface of the bread so that it develops a thin, glossy, beautifully brown crust, but these baguettes will still be wonderful if you want to skip the steam-making step.
Allow 25 minutes to mix and rest
10 to 12 minutes to knead
1½ hours to ferment
45 to 60 minutes to shape and proof the loaves
20 to 25 minutes to bake
Large mixing bowl
3 kitchen tea towels or flour sack towels (I love these)
2-quart straight-sided food grade plastic container with snap-on lid
Cast iron skillet (for making steam in the oven)
Bench scraper (these are so handy) or chef's knife
Digital kitchen scale (optional but a great investment; I often use mine several times a day)
Baker's peel or rimless baking sheet
Unbleached parchment paper
Sharp serrated knife
3¼ to 3½ cups organic all-purpose flour (you may need a little more)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1½ cups (12 ounces) tepid water (70°F)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt or organic mineral salt (such as Redmond Real Salt)
1 cup ice cubes (for making steam in the oven)
Mixed dough ready for a 20 minute rest.
Mix the dough
Place 3¼ cups of the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and stir with a rubber spatula to combine. Add the water and stir just until all the water is absorbed and a dry, clumpy dough forms. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let it stand for 20 minutes, to allow the flour to hydrate and the gluten to develop on its own.
Dough after resting and mixing in the salt, now ready to knead.
Sprinkle the salt over the dough and evenly mix it in as best you can. It will fully dissolve into the dough during the kneading process.
Knead the dough
By hand: Lightly dust the counter with flour. Empty the dough and any stray flour out of the bowl and knead it with smooth, steady strokes for 10 to 12 minutes. Dip your hands in flour as necessary so they don't stick to the dough. You may need to add another 1/4 cup or more of flour (depending on your flour, the weather, etc.), but try to avoid kneading extra flour into the dough so your baguettes will be light. Take a 2-minute break if you become tired.
Dough after 10 minutes of kneading.
Stop kneading when the dough loses its stickiness, firms up, and feels silky smooth and resilient.
By machine (I always knead by hand, but here are the instructions from Local Breads for those who would like them): Use the dough hook of a stand mixer and mix the dough on low speed (2 on a KitchenAid) for 8 to 10 minutes. It will clear the sides of the bowl, grabbing onto the dough hook, but look lumpy, Pull it off the dough hook and knead it by hand for a few strokes on an unfloured counter until it is very smooth and springy.
Ferment the dough (first rise):
Transfer the dough to a clear, straight-sided 2-quart food grade plastic container with a snap-on lid. With masking tape or a felt tip marker, mark the spot on the container that the dough will reach when it has increased 1½ times (50%) in volume.
Put the lid on the container and leave it to rise at room temperature (about 70 degrees; a little cooler is okay) for 45 minutes. It won't double in volume but should increase somewhere between 25% (halfway to the mark) to 50% (all the way to the mark).
If your kitchen is warmer than 70 degrees and your dough is rising too fast, you can put it in the refrigerator for a little while to cool it down. You can also make your dough with cold water rather than room temperature.
Give the dough a turn
Lightly dust the counter with flour and, using a spatula, empty the risen dough out of the container. Pat it gently into a rectangle about 6 by 8 inches and fold it like a business letter:
1) With the short side facing you, lift the top edge and fold it into the center of the rectangle.
2) Lift the bottom edge and fold it up into the center so that it overlaps the top edge by about 1 inch.
3) Quickly slide both hands under the dough and flip it over so the folds are underneath.
4) Slip it back into the container, pushing it down to fit.
Put the lid back on and let the dough until it again increases between 25% and 50% in volume, about 45 minutes.
Prepare the oven
About 1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack of the cold oven and (if you want to make the steam) a cast iron skillet on the lower rack. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Never put a cold baking stone in a hot oven or it may crack.
Divide and pre-shape the dough
Lightly dust the counter with flour. Uncover the dough and turn it out onto the counter. With a bench scraper or chef's knife, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces (about 10 ounces) each. (I use my 11-pound digital kitchen scale to evenly portion out dough and weigh all kinds of other stuff).
Gently pat each piece into a rough rectangle about 5"x7" and fold it in half. Sprinkle the pieces of dough with flour and drape them with a damp towel. Let them relax on the counter for 10 minutes.
Shape the baguettes
Cover a baker's peel or rimless baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper. Shape each piece of dough into a baguette 12 to 14 inches long (make them at least two inches shorter than your baking stone) and 2½ inches wide, using your favorite method or the instructions at the end of this post.
Form the couche
Lightly dust the parchment that is on the peel or rimless baking sheet with flour and place the baguettes on the parchment, seam sides down, about 2 inches apart. Lift the parchment paper between the loaves, making pleats and drawing the loaves together.
Tightly roll up 2 kitchen towels and slip them under the parchment paper on the sides of the two outer loaves to support and cradle the baguettes. Lightly dust the tops of the baguettes with flour and drape them with a damp tea towel.
Proof the baguettes (final rise)
Let the loaves stand at room temperature (70 degrees) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they increase about 1½ times in size. When you press your fingertip into the dough, the indentation will spring back slowly.
Score the baguettes
Scored loaves ready for the oven.
Uncover the loaves, take away the towels, and stretch the parchment paper out so that it is flat and the loaves are separated on top of it. Score each baguette with a very sharp serrated knife. Starting from the tip, angle the blade 45 degrees to make 3 slashes, about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep. Slash quickly and confidently. You can carefully slice back through the slashes a second time if necessary.
Bake the loaves
Slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto the hot baking stone. Carefully place 1 cup of ice cubes into the hot cast iron skillet to produce steam. Quickly close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees.
Bake until the baguettes are caramel-colored, 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool and store the loaves
Slide the peel or the rimless baking sheet under the parchment paper to remove the loaves from the oven. Slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a wire rack. Cool for about 5 minutes and then peel them off the parchment paper (if they come off the paper while taking them out of the oven, that's okay).
Parisian Daily Baguettes are best eaten within a few hours of baking. Toast day-old baguettes and spread with butter and jam for breakfast. For longer storage, freeze cooled baguettes in resealable freezer bags for up to 2 months. For storing baguettes and large sandwich loaves (and all sorts of other things), I love 2-gallon zipper bags and 2.5-gallon jumbo zipper bags, which I wash out and reuse over and over.
Wondering why your baguettes don't look exactly like mine? How your loaves end up looking will depend on your flour, the weather, your oven, and other variables. They may even look different from batch to batch.
For example, the baguettes in the three photos at the top of this post are from two different batches baked last month. The loaves pictured above were baked six years ago in a different oven, in a different house, and using a different brand of flour. The good news is that all versions taste delicious!
These simple, make-ahead Lemony Tuna and Artichoke (no mayo) Cooler-Pressed Sandwiches on homemade baguettes are perfect for toting on picnics or hikes, to work, or just out to the backyard (recipe here).
Can't live on bread alone? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.
How To Shape A Baguette
Adapted slightly from Local Breads
1. (As directed in the instructions above) Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces as directed above. Gently pat each piece into a rough rectangle about 5"x7" and fold it in half. Sprinkle the pieces of dough with flour and drape them with a damp towel. Let them relax on the counter for 10 minutes.
2. With the longer side of your rectangle of dough facing you, fold the top of the dough down about halfway to the center. With the heel of your hand, press along the seam, using firm but gentle pressure. Fold the bottom of the dough about halfway up to the center and seal the seam firmly.
3. Fold this skinny rectangle in half by bringing the top edge down to meet the bottom edge. Working from right to left, cup your hand over the log of dough and press the heel of your hand down firmly to seal the seam. Dust the counter with additional flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
4. To stretch the log into a baguette, place your hands together palms down, over the middle of the log. Using light, even pressure, roll the log back and forth as you spread your hands apart. Repeat three or four times, until the log is the desired length. Leave the ends rounded. Pat the loaves gently to make them wider. Avoid over-handling the loaves, which will burst their air cells.
© FarmgirlFare.com, the flour-dusted foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and there are almost always homemade baguettes in the freezer.