French Baguettes

Fresh baguettes--kind of a pain, but mostly worth it.
Fresh baguettes--kind of a pain, but mostly worth it.
Fresh baguettes–kind of a pain, but mostly worth it.

I had a day off of work earlier this week for President’s Day, so I decided to take on a cooking project. When I found this baguette recipe from Food52, it seemed like a perfect challenge for a snowy day. I’ve tried making bread from scratch before (most successfully with the no-knead ciabatta recipe) but I was ready to try a more traditional recipe and had the time to devote to a longer bread-making process. It took the better part of the afternoon, but the results were worth it! We ate the bread alongside bowls of Ellie Krieger’s Beef Mushroom Barley Soup for dinner.

After reading a couple of reviews on the recipe page, I did make some changes–some of which were successful, some not so much. I added a bit of sugar to the water for the yeast-proofing step, and reduced the amount of salt because I didn’t have the brand Dan uses. (And really, it was still a bit salty. I’d drop to 1 tsp of Morton’s kosher salt for next time.) I also inadvertently increased the amount of flour from 3 1/4 cups to 3 1/2, but that didn’t seem to affect the final result.

My big screw-up here was trying to use waxed paper instead of parchment paper for forming the loaves. Unlike parchment, you can’t bake on waxed paper. When I had to move my loaves of dough from the waxed paper to the baking sheet, they stuck like crazy! So, don’t do that. Use parchment. (The bread still came out fine, despite mangling and reshaping the dough at the last minute, but still.)

French Baguettes

Makes 3 baguettes

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, about 115F (microwave it for about one minute)
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • canola oil
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes

Steps

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a large bowl and sprinkle with yeast. Let proof 10 minutes. Because it’s a small amount of yeast, it won’t fluff up the way it would if you were making pizza dough, for example, but you should still get some foaming. (If nothing happens, check your water temperature and try again. If it still doesn’t work, your yeast is dead and you’ll need a fresh container.)
    Add a little sugar to a large bowl.
    Add a little sugar to a large bowl.
    Stir in the hot water and sprinkle the yeast on top. The sugar will feed the yeast while it proofs for 10 minutes.
    Stir in the hot water and sprinkle the yeast on top. The sugar will feed the yeast while it proofs for 10 minutes.
    While waiting for your yeast to proof, take pictures of your adorable salt cellar (thanks Mom!). I used Morton's kosher salt for this recipe, which is a finer grain than the brand recommended in the original recipe.
    While waiting for your yeast to proof, take pictures of your adorable salt cellar (thanks Mom!). I used Morton’s kosher salt for this recipe, which is a finer grain than the brand recommended in the original recipe.

    The yeast will foam up a bit and should smell...well, yeasty. If you don't get any foam, either your water was too hot or the yeast was old.
    The yeast will foam up a bit and should smell…well, yeasty. If you don’t get any foam, either your water was too hot or the yeast was old.
  2. Stir in the flour with a fork until combined. Let the dough sit and hydrate for 20 minutes.

    Use a fork to stir in the flour. Then, hands off for 20 minutes!
    Use a fork to stir in the flour. Then, hands off for 20 minutes!
  3. Stir in the salt and turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Flour your hands and board as needed to prevent sticking.
    Turn the dough out onto a floured cutting board or clean countertop.
    Turn the dough out onto a floured cutting board or clean countertop.

    Knead until smooth and elastic. The dough should feel soft and pliable.
    Knead until smooth and elastic. The dough should feel soft and pliable.
  4. Wash and dry the bowl and coat the inside with a light layer of canola oil. Add the dough and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Place the dough in the microwave or a cold oven to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
    Wash out the bowl and coat it with a light layer of canola oil. Place the dough inside and cover with a bit of plastic wrap. I used a gallon-size zip top bag that I cut open so I could re-use it for all the rising stages.
    Wash out the bowl and coat it with a light layer of canola oil. Place the dough inside and cover with a bit of plastic wrap. I used a gallon-size zip top bag that I cut open so I could re-use it for all the rising stages.

    Continue with the recipe once your dough has doubled in size.
    Continue with the recipe once your dough has doubled in size.
  5. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and pat it into a 6 x 8-inch rectangle. Fold the long sides into the middle, then fold in the short sides. Place the dough back into the bowl seam-side down. Cover and let rise until doubled again, about 1 hour.
    Pat the dough out into a large rectangle.
    Pat the dough out into a large rectangle.
    Fold in the long sides...
    Fold in the long sides…
    ...and then the short sides.
    …and then the short sides.
    That's it! Now hands off for another hour.
    That’s it! Now hands off for another hour.

    Once the dough has doubled again, it's time to shape the loaves.
    Once the dough has doubled again, it’s time to shape the loaves.
  6. Roll up two kitchen towels tightly and lay them across a baking sheet. Lay a piece of parchment paper across the towels and flour it. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll each into a 14-inch-long log. Lay each log on the parchment paper so that it sits between the towels to hold its shape. Cover and let rise again until doubled, about 50 minutes.
    Roll up a couple of kitchen towels and lay a piece of parchment over top. Sprinkle the parchment with flour. This is where I made the crucial misstep--do NOT use waxed paper.
    Roll up a couple of kitchen towels, place them on a baking sheet and lay a piece of parchment over top. Sprinkle the parchment with flour. This is where I made the crucial misstep–do NOT use waxed paper.
    Cut the dough into three equal parts with a knife or a dough scraper.
    Cut the dough into three equal parts with a knife or a dough scraper.
    Roll each portion into a 14-inch log and lay it in one of the spaces between the towels.
    Roll each portion into a 14-inch log and lay it in one of the spaces between the towels.

    After the final rise, your baguettes are ready to go in the oven. Look how pretty they were before I tried to un-stick them from the paper.
    After the final rise, your baguettes are ready to go in the oven. Look how pretty they were before I tried to un-stick them from the paper.
  7. Preheat the oven to 475F. Place one rack in the lower third of the oven with an oven-proof pan like a stainless steel skillet. Place a rimless baking sheet or a cookie sheet turned upside down on the upper rack while the oven preheats.
  8. Slash each baguette in four places with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Slide the towels out from under the parchment paper. When the oven is preheated, remove the preheated pan. Use the parchment paper to slide the baguettes onto the hot pan and place it back in the oven. Carefully place the ice cubes in the pan and close the oven door immediately to contain the steam.

    And here they are post-mangling. If I had been using parchment paper, I would have just slid the whole sheet onto the preheated baking sheet. Cut slashes in each baguette with kitchen shears/scissors or a sharp knife.
    And here they are post-mangling. If I had been using parchment paper, I would have just slid the whole sheet onto the preheated baking sheet. Cut slashes in each baguette with kitchen shears/scissors or a sharp knife.
  9. Bake the baguettes for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and let cool before slicing.

    Bake until golden brown. Despite being a bit misshapen, I still think they turned out looking ok.
    Bake until golden brown. Despite being a bit misshapen, I still think they turned out looking ok.

Despite being a bit mangled and little too salty, the bread was great. The ice cube trick worked perfectly and produced a nice crunchy crust while the bread inside was soft with just the right amount of chew. Next time I find myself with too much time on my hands, I’ll try again!

I’m not sure how well the baguettes would keep on their own–I recommend eating your fill the day you make them and then cutting the leftovers into individual portions and freezing. To defrost, let them sit on the counter in a sealed baggie at room temperature for a while or wrap in paper towels and microwave for a minute or two using the defrost setting. Pop the bread into the oven or toaster oven for a few minutes to warm it up and revive the crunchy crust.

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