| French Cuisine | Bread
The baguette is a variety of bread distinguishable by its much greater length than width, and noted for its very crispy crust. The standard girth size of a baguette is about 5 or 6 cm, but can be up to a meter in length. It typically weighs 250g. It may also be referred to as a French loaf or French stick.
- 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) very warm water (105-115°F)
- 4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/4 cups (10 1/2 ounces) cool water (75°F)
- Forming the dough
- Using a fork, stir together the yeast and warm water in a small bowl until the yeast dissolves. Let stand for 3 minutes.
- Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.
- Mix the cool water, yeast mixture and flour gently with your fingers to form a mass.
- On a lightly-floured work surface, knead for 5 minutes. The dough should now be supple and resilient.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a light towel.
- Let the dough rest for 25 minutes - this period is called the autolyse.
- Knead the dough for 6 - 8 minutes. Overkneading could make an overly tough dough; you're looking for a dough that is smooth and stretchy.
- The first rise
- Lightly oil a bowl, and turn the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a tea towel.
- Let rise at room temperature (75-77°F) for 1 1/2 - 2 hours (until the volume doubles).
- Gently deflate the dough. Fold it over itself , then reshape into a ball. Cover again with a tea towel.
- Let rise for 1 1/4 hours or until it doubles again.
- Once again, gently deflate the dough. Reshape into a round and cover, letting it rise for about 1 hour.
- Shaping the loaves
- On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces (about 10 ounces each).
- Take one piece and gently stretch into a rectangle, leaving some large bubbles in the dough.
- Fold the top third down and the bottom third up.
- Form the loaf into a log by rolling the dough over from left to right and sealing the seam with the heel of your palm.
- Fold the dough over about a third of the way each time, seal the length of the loaf, then repeat.
- You want to gently draw the skin tight over the surface of the baguette while leaving some air bubbles in the dough. Seal the seam, being careful not to tear the skin of the dough or deflate its airy structure.
- Set aside on the work surface to relax before elongating it, and repeat the shaping process with remaining pieces of dough.
- Now elongate each baguette, starting with the first one you shaped, by rolling it back and forth on the work surface. Begin with both hands over the center of the loaf and work them out to the ends until the loaf reaches the desired length. Make sure that the loaves don't exceed the length allowed by the oven.
- The second rise
- Place the finished loaves on a peel or upside down baking sheet lined with parchment paper and generously sprinkled with cornmeal or on a baguette pan.
- Cover the loaves with well oiled plastic or a floured cloth and let rise for 30 to 40 minutes until the loaves are slightly plump but still not doubled in volume. The final rise is short, because you want the baguettes to be slightly under proofed; this will give them a better oven spring, resulting in loaves with a light, airy crumb and more flared cuts.
- Preparing for baking
- Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500°F.
- Place a baking stone in the oven to preheat, and place an empty water pan directly under the stone.
- Use a very sharp razor blade or lame to make 3 to 5 slashes, depending on the length of your loaves, on the top of each baguette. The cuts should run from one end of the loaf to the other, rather than across it, and the blade should be held at a 30° angle to the loaf so that the cuts pop open in the oven. Be careful not to press down too hard, or you may deflate the loaves.
- Using a plant sprayer, mist the loaves.
- Gently slide the loaves onto the preheated stone, or place the baguette mold in the oven. Pour 1 cup of very hot water into the water pan and quickly close the oven door. After 1 minute, mist the loaves and oven walls 6 to 8 times and close the door. After 2 more minutes, spray the loaves and the oven walls again.
- Bake for 12 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 400°F and bake for 25 - 30 minutes longer until the loaves are golden brown and crisp. Move them to a rack to cool.
- Enjoy your baguettes still slightly warm with some soft, ripe French cheese and a glass of wine.
Makes 3 14-inch baguettes.
Replacing some of the all-purpose flour (1/4 of it is a good amount) with cake flour will give an even lighter texture to the loaf.
Shorter baguettes are very often used for sandwiches. These sandwich-sized loaves are sometimes known as demi-baguettes or tiers. Baguettes are often sliced and served with cheeses. As part of the traditional continental breakfast in France, slices of baguette are spread with jam and dunked in bowls of coffee or hot chocolate.