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Guest Post: Homemade French Baguettes

August 27, 2012

After bragging about my girlfriend Paula’s love of baking bread for months now, I have finally convinced her to write a guest blog post! Baguettes seemed like the obvious first choice, since they were the first type of bread that she ever made outside of her bread machine (which we’ve since given away to a friend!). She’s baked her way through several different baguette recipes by now, finally settling on a two-day fermented dough recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Here is Paula’s guest post about her journey into bread-baking:

The seed was planted when we visited Paris and noticed so many French people walking around carrying fresh baguettes. We decided to go to a neighborhood farmer’s market and buy some bread and cheese for a picnic.

That trip was a year ago. In the months after our European adventure, we would buy par-baked baguettes from Trader Joe’s or fresh baked baguettes from the grocery store. I thought about making baguettes from scratch, but the idea was intimidating for several reasons.

I had a breadmaker that I would use occasionally. It was no fuss, no muss; I would just add the ingredients and the machine would do the rest. I had The Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hersberger, and included among the hundreds of recipes were instructions for French bread. Unfortunately, back then I was too lazy to want to take the dough out of the machine to shape it, so I never tried. I also simply hated kneading dough. (When I was a child, I would be recruited to help my mother make tortillas, and kneading a huge bowl of tortilla dough was tough work. Such tough work that 25 years later, I was still against the idea of kneading.)

It wasn’t until the girlfriend surprised me with a baguette pan for Christmas that I warmed to the idea of making baguettes. I referred back to my bread machine cookbook, but I decided I wanted to make baguettes from scratch. So I started to do a little research.

I read blogs, watched Youtube videos, searched on Reddit. When I settled on a Youtube video that I liked, I watched it in its entirety before assembling the ingredients. This was on New Year’s Eve, and we were expecting a few people over for a party. I chose a video that featured a chef from a culinary institute in Colorado. In the three-part video, he details ingredients, shows how he mixes and kneads, how long a rise should take, and how he shapes the baguettes for baking. It was an extraordinary video and I was pumped.

I followed all the instructions exactly, even though the first comment on Youtube read “Did he say 4 TABLESPOONS of salt?? I think he probably meant 4 TEASPOONS.” I should have paid more attention to that comment. My baguettes rose nicely after kneading– which was really not that horrible– and looked amazing after baking, but tasted like a salt lick. My girlfriend and I tried a few bites, and the first taste was great, but the aftertaste was unacceptably salty. We did not eat fresh baguettes that night, and I didn’t refer back to that video again.

I kept reading blogs and settled on A Sweet Pea Chef’s French baguette recipe. It was this recipe that made me gain confidence in my baking skills. The first time I made it, it was such a success that I started making it nearly every weekend. Of course, the girlfriend and I cannot eat three whole baguettes every week, so they became presents. I brought them to work, I brought them to game nights, I would give a loaf away if I saw a random friend.

After a while my recipe evolved; I no longer referred to A Sweet Pea Chef’s blog. I stopped putting sugar in the recipe. It became very simple: 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon yeast, and 1.5 cups water. Short, sweet, and to the point. It was then that I decided I wanted to branch out and try other bread recipes. I tried making focaccia, which was almost exactly the same as my baguette recipe, except I added rosemary and olive oil. I tried making challah from Smitten Kitchen, pita bread from a combination of recipes, and finally pizza dough from My Fancy Pantry. All were successful and my confidence was growing.

In fact, I started day-dreaming about quitting everything to go find a job as a baker. I still kind of want to do this, but I know that nursing will be more lucrative (I also want to go into oncology nursing for personal reasons). So baking as a hobby will have to suffice for now.

Finally after reading about it on numerous blogs, I decided to level up, as they say in the D&D world, and purchase The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The recipes were more complex than what I was used to; there were recipes for poolish, biga, and pâte fermentée (or pre-ferment). Even the terminology was different. I was a little intimidated. Many of the breads required a two-day commitment, when I was used to setting aside just an afternoon for baking bread. I decided to start with something that I was already very comfortable with: the French baguette.

The recipe requires pâte fermentée, which means assembling roughly half the ingredients for a pre-ferment, storing it in the fridge overnight– or for up to three days– and adding the other half of the ingredients the next day. No sugar is listed in the recipe: Peter Reinhart states that with the pre-ferment, the natural sugars in the flour get released.

The finished product yields a baguette that looks pretty, though not as dark as the burnt golden sugar color of Peter Reinhart’s baguettes, since my oven only goes up to 500 degrees. But the inside of the bread is incredibly light, and the nooks and crannies larger. The taste makes me think of our too-short time in France. This is a recipe I will keep coming back to. I’ll just have to try out all of the other recipes in Reinhart’s book, too.

Print this recipe.

RECIPE:

Pâte Fermentée (Day 1)
Slightly adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

(Makes enough for one French Baguette recipe below)

Ingredients:
~ 1⅛ cup bread flour
~ 1⅛ cup all-purpose flour
~ ¾ tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. instant yeast
~ ¾ cup water at room temperature, plus ¼ cup room temperature water to possibly add

How to make it:

1. Mix all ingredients together, making sure that the dough is not too sticky or too thick. (Reinhart states that it’s better to err on the sticky side as it’s harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable.

3. Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil spray and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature until the dough swells to about 1.5 times its original size. (This should take about an hour depending on your climate.)

Day 1, pre-rise

4. Knead the dough lightly to de-gas it (you can leave the dough in the bowl for this), cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge overnight.

Fermented dough, ready for Day 2

French Baguettes (Day 2)
Slightly adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

(Makes 3 medium baguettes)

Ingredients:
~ pâte fermentée (the Day 1 recipe)
~ 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
~ 1¼ cups bread flour
~ ¾ tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. instant yeast
~ ¾ cup water at room temperature, plus ¼ cup room temperature water to possibly add

Special equipment needed:
~ Baguette pan (if you’re not using a baguette pan, you can use semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting a baking stone or a parchment paper-lined baking sheet)
~ Clean spray bottle filled with cold water
~ Metal cake, pie, casserole, or bread pan to fill with water and place in the oven to create steam
~ (OPTIONAL: Dough scraper)

How to make it:

1. Remove the pâte fermentée from the fridge, cut it into 8-10 small pieces, and set aside for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir the dry ingredients and the pâte fermentée together in a large 4-quart bowl. Add the water and mix until everything comes together into a coarse ball. Adjust the flour or water so that it’s neither too sticky nor too stiff.

3. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough and knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable and all of the pre-ferment is evenly distributed. Lightly oil a large bowl– I use olive oil cooking spray, place the dough into the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Leave the dough to ferment for 2 hours, or until it doubles in size.

Too many baking projects at once results in a slightly too-risen dough…

4. Once the dough has doubled in size, transfer it carefully to a lightly-floured counter. Cut it into three equal pieces using a dough scraper or a serrated knife. Shape the dough into long torpedoes (I gently roll them, but use whatever technique you like). Place in the baguette pan and lightly cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel for another 30-45 minutes (you might want to let them proof for 15 extra minutes if you’re in a cooler climate).

 

5. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees. Prepare a clean spray bottle full of cold water. Pour 1-2 cups of hot water into a metal cake pan, and place in the bottom rack of the oven to create steam.

Risen a little too much, because I was also baking ciabatta!

6. Score baguettes with three slits each using a serrated knife. Place baguettes into the oven and spray the oven walls with water to create steam. Wait 30 seconds, open the oven and spray again, close and wait another 30 seconds, then spray a third time. Slowly count to 30 (“1 alligator, 2 alligator, 3…”) in between the three spritzes of the oven walls. After the third spray, lower the temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate the baguette pan 180 degrees and continue baking until golden brown or until the inner temperature of the loaves registers 205 degrees F. This can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. (Using my small home oven, my baguettes are never the “rich golden brown” that Peter Reinhart describes, but they’re still baked through.)

7. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on the rack for at least 40 minutes before slicing and serving. Or if you’re anything like the girlfriend and me, wait until there’s only a little chance of being burned before slicing and spreading on some butter, or about 5 minutes. (I take no responsibility for any injuries if you’re like us and can’t wait until the baguettes have cooled!)

A note about storing: we wait until the baguettes have cooled completely, then wrap them in foil and store them on the counter for a couple of days, then in the fridge. Since using Peter Reinhart’s recipe, I’ve found that even after a few days, the stale baguettes are still soft and flavorful, but since there are no preservatives, I would advise that you store them in the fridge. I usually make 3 loaves on Sundays, and by the time the next weekend rolls around, we still have one loaf left for Saturday morning baguette French toast!

Print this recipe!

Related Posts:
> Travel Photos: Crêpes and Picnics in Paris
> Pan Catalán (Tomato Bread Tapas)
> Rhubarb Birthday Galette

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2012 10:31 am

    Great post…the bread looks amazing…

  2. August 27, 2012 1:28 pm

    What a stunning guest post, this bread looks incredible :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  3. Bekki permalink
    August 28, 2012 12:11 pm

    Yay! I’ve been waiting for this post as I saw references to the baguette in other posts… I can’t wait to try it. My oven also only goes up to 500. How hot is it supposed to be ideally?

    • August 28, 2012 12:50 pm

      Well, Peter Reinhart states to make your oven as high as it will go, he acknowledges that many home ovens will only go to 500. When Allison and I visited the bakery at Piedrasassi Winery, we saw that the baker doesn’t start baking until her oven is at 750 degrees, but she mainly bakes sourdough boules, which I have yet to try.

  4. August 28, 2012 9:29 pm

    I have never been brave enough to try baguettes, plus my laziness is reinforced by the fact that I can get amazing ones at Le Panier here in Seattle for $2…perhaps though it’s time to conquer this one. I’ll report back if I do. :-)

    • August 29, 2012 11:43 am

      If you’re still not feeling brave enough to try Peter Reinhart’s recipe, you may want to try my simpler recipe. 4 cups flour, 1.5 cups water (room temperature), 1 teaspoon yeast, 1 teaspoon salt. Combine all ingredients, knead on floured surface, oil up a bowl, place dough in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 2 hours. Dough should double in size. Gently place dough on counter and cut into three equal pieces. If you don’t have a baguette pan, you can cut it into two equal pieces, or one huge piece. Lightly cover with a kitchen towel and let it proof (rise) for another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Once final proofing is done, bake for 20-25, until golden brown.

      I want you to report back, regardless of the recipe. Good luck!!

      • August 29, 2012 1:57 pm

        You are so sweet! I will definitely give this a shot…perhaps this weekend. Stay tuned!

  5. August 28, 2012 9:49 pm

    Thank you, Paula! I’ve been waiting to hear the secret to your famous baguettes. :) I can’t wait to try them this week.

  6. August 29, 2012 12:21 am

    Reblogged this on networks info space and commented:
    “When I was a child, I would be recruited to help my mother make tortillas, and kneading a huge bowl of tortilla dough was tough work. Such tough work that 25 years later, I was still against the idea of kneading.” …well I do prefer tortillas!

    • August 29, 2012 11:33 am

      I prefer tortillas too, maybe a little too much. I’ll report back once I finally bite the bullet and make tortillas.

  7. August 30, 2012 6:52 am

    Your french baguettes look beautiful Paula! My fiancee keeps saying he want to guest post on my blog but he just doesn’t get around to it! I think it’s wonderful how supportive you are of Allison’s blog!

    • August 30, 2012 9:09 am

      I’ve been saying all summer I was going to write up a post about baguettes, I literally waited until the last moment to do it. On a Sunday afternoon, the last Sunday before the fall semester started. Better late than never I say.

  8. September 1, 2012 12:53 pm

    …banh mi… ^_^

  9. September 3, 2012 4:59 am

    I have been attempting to make bread for a few months now, every-time it turns out tasting pretty decent except it is always dense and I LOVE the airy bread. Looks like you pretty much nailed it! The bread looks fantastic! For me- I think I am gonna keep on trying till my bread becomes light and airy.

    • September 3, 2012 10:57 am

      Veggie, my baguettes were always pretty dense too. Even though I got a lot of compliments, I still felt that my recipe was imperfect because my baguettes were not light and airy. It’s all in the pre-ferment and handling. I’ve got the pre-ferment down; the handling I still need to work on. My next guest post is going to be about ciabatta, and handling the ciabatta (transferring it from cloth to pizza stone) without de-gassing it is definitely a challenge.

  10. September 19, 2012 11:33 am

    Mmmmmm! Nothing better than fresh breadddd….

    • September 19, 2012 1:56 pm

      So true! I’ve already started pestering Paula about writing her next guest blog post… next up: ciabatta!

      • September 19, 2012 2:56 pm

        ohhhhhhh ciabatta is my favorite! Baked French Toast made with ciabatta is pretty much the best thing ever.

      • September 19, 2012 9:43 pm

        Oo, we’ve only been making French toast with our homemade baguettes– haven’t tried it with ciabatta yet, but that sounds so good.

  11. September 27, 2012 4:06 pm

    I like your recipes!!!! I’ll try it :)

  12. October 3, 2012 11:26 pm

    I made this bread last sunday. It was good. We ate it with chiken breast and tomatoes, really delicious. :)

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