Baguettes. Crusty, golden… unattainable-except-from-an-artisan-bakery baguettes.

Not so. And we’re here to prove it to you.

The late Prof. Raymond Calvel, France’s acclaimed “godfather of bread,” visited this country and did a “blind” baguette baking, using a variety of American flours to make his signature crusty loaf. The result? King Arthur Flour was Calvel’s choice as being most similar to his beloved French flour.

Flour is the baguette’s main ingredient: it makes up nearly 60% of the bread, by weight, so it’s a critical element. And guess what? The best American baguette flours are right here at your fingertips: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour. They’re also available in any major grocery store. The only other ingredients are yeast, water, salt… and time.

For sure, the baguette isn’t the very first loaf you’d tackle as a beginning bread baker, no more than you’d expect to step into the box at Fenway Park the first time you held a baseball bat in your hands. But it’s something to aspire to, once you’ve gotten your feet wet (and your hands floury).

The feeling of accomplishment you’ll get from pulling a deep-brown, crackly-crisp baguette out of your own oven is indescribable. Even the loaf itself celebrates your success: hold it up to your ear to hear its signature “song” as it cools. (What, you’ve never done that? Try it…)

The path to homemade baguettes is long, but not rocky. You’ll spend most of the time going about your business as the flour, water, and yeast quietly make their magic. Some initial kneading is followed by lots of resting and rising; a minimal bit of shaping precedes the finale, 25 minutes in a very hot oven. And that’s it: baguettes.

Ready? Let's make Classic Baguettes and Stuffed Baguettes.

img_4028.JPG

First you're going to make a starter. Mix flour, water, and just a pinch of yeast, and let it rest for about 14 hours at room temperature.

img_2640.JPG
The picture above shows what it'll look like after its rest: soft and bubbly, kind of like a pancake when it's ready to flip to the other side. If you're planning to bake on a Saturday, make the starter late-afternoon Friday, and it'll be ready to go Saturday morning. This first rest gives the yeast a chance to start growing.

img_2641.JPG
Next day, place the starter, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl (or bread machine bucket). Then, pour the designated amount of water into your starter container; you don't want to waste any of those stuck-on bits of starter. If you're using active dry yeast, stir it into the water, as pictured above.

img_2642.JPG
Whisk it around; it'll soften, but not fully dissolve.

img_2644.JPG
Pour it into the bowl with the other ingredients.

img_2313.JPG
If you're using a stand mixer, knead briefly with the beater, just till the dough becomes cohesive.

img_2314.JPG
Then switch to the dough hook, kneading for about 5 minutes on speed 2; the dough will still be a big “gnarly.” If you're kneading by hand, knead till the dough is soft and elastic, but not totally smooth. In the bread machine, let it knead for about 10 minutes.

img_2647.JPG
Gather the dough into a ball; notice its surface is fairly rough. You don't want to knead it too much, as the gluten will continue to develop during its long rise. If you kneaded the dough till it was absolutely smooth, it would be over-developed by the time it was done rising: too stiff, difficult to shape.

img_2315.JPG
Put the dough into a greased, covered container, and let it rise for 1 hour.

img_2330.JPG
See the bubbles forming? The yeast is doing its work. Deflate it, and let it rise for another hour. Repeat once more; the dough will rise for a total of 3 hours.

img_2661.JPG
Now look how smooth it's become—all on its own!

img_2660.JPG
Look how lovely and elastic it is, too. If you'd kneaded it fully at first, it wouldn't stretch like this.

img_2343.JPG
Divide the dough into three pieces, flatten into rough ovals, and let them rest for 15 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax. Gluten can be recalcitrant; the more you stretch it, the tighter it gets. Letting dough relax before shaping makes it MUCH easier to work with.

img_2365.JPG
After 15 minutes, flatten one piece of dough into a rough rectangle.

img_2367.JPG
Fold it over...

img_2664.JPG
...and seal the edge with your fingers.

img_2665.JPG
Flatten again...

img_2666.JPG
And fold and seal again. Look how the dough has lengthened from 8” to 12” during this process.

img_2667.JPG
Turn it so the seam side is down.

img_2668.JPG
And roll gently, starting in the center...

img_2669.JPG
And working your way out to the edges. Don't press down hard; just gently roll the dough under your cupped fingers, and it'll lengthen on its own. If it doesn't, give it a 15-minute rest, while you work on the other two pieces, then come back to it.

img_2433.JPG
Put the 15” baguettes onto a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. If you have a triple baguette pan, lay each of the baguettes in one of the lightly greased wells of the pan.

img_2371.JPG
Or do what they do in France: let them rise on a couche, a flour-rubbed towel. Sprinkle flour heavily on a linen couche or smooth cotton towel; I'm using a towel here. Rub the flour into the cloth.

img_2436.JPG
“Cradle” the baguettes in the folds of the towel.

img_2670.JPG
Here they are, ready to rise; cover them with a free-standing cover, or with greased plastic wrap.

img_2673.JPG
And here are the risen loaves. Don't let them rise TOO much; they should be puffy, but nowhere near doubled in size. If you let them rise too much, they're hard to handle, and they won't rise well in the oven.

img_2392.JPG
If you've used the couche method, gently roll each baguette onto the prepared baking sheet. (If you want to bake on a pizza stone, roll onto a piece of parchment which you've set atop your peel.)

img_2394.JPG
The baguette will probably land floured side up.

img_2396.JPG
Gently roll it over so the floured side is on the bottom. Repeat with the remaining two baguettes.

img_2398.JPG
Spritz heavily with warm water. This mimics the effect of a steam oven, and will help give the baguettes a slightly shiny, crunchy crust. If you've made baguettes before and like to a) spray water into your oven, b) throw ice cubes into a hot pan on the oven floor, or c) make steam via some other method, go for it. Whatever works for you is fine. I find spraying with water easiest, as I don't have to keep opening the oven (and letting heat escape) once the baguettes are in.

img_2676.JPG
Next, you're going to make three diagonal slashes in each baguette. Hold the sharp knife at a 45° angle to the bread, be quick, and use firm strokes.
img_2387.JPG
Notice the lovely air bubbles inside the slash. The yeast has been doing its work for probably 18 or 19 hours now...

img_2678.JPG
If you've done your slashing correctly, the loaves will look a bit deflated; that's OK.

img_2679.JPG
The high heat of the 450°F oven will pick them right back up again!

img_2567.JPG
And here they are: your very own baguettes! Be sure to bake them long enough; they should appear almost charred in spots.

img_2570.JPG
Homemade baguettes won't have QUITE the large-holed interior of artisan bakery baguettes, but they'll still be “holey” enough to trap and hold olive oil or butter.

img_0664.JPG
Here's a cross-section view. For larger holes, make a softer dough by adding more liquid. The challenge is to find that “sweet spot”: more liquid, more holes; too much liquid, the baguettes flatten out.

Buy vs. Bake


Buy: Artisan bakery 9-ounce baguette, $2.95


Bake at home: Homemade 9-ounce baguette, 43¢

img_2356.JPG
OK, here's another fun thing to make: stuffed baguettes. Divide the dough into six pieces instead of three, and shape each into a 5”-long rectangle.

img_2361.JPG
Layer with meat and cheese (in this case, ham, Swiss, and mustard). Don't use too much filling, as it'll make the baguettes soggy.

img_2362.JPG
Roll up like a jelly roll, sealing the long seam and pinching the ends closed.

img_2364.JPG
I might have been able to put all six on this pan, but I decided not to crowd them.

img_2383.JPG
Slash twice; or don't.

img_2407.JPG
Slashed baguette on the left; plain on the right. It's mostly a matter of looks.

img_2413.JPG
YUM! The tunnel in the center is pretty much inevitable, as the bread rises and the filling doesn't. But never mind the look, this is just plain delicious. Enjoy!

Check out our recipe for Classic Baguettes and Stuffed Baguettes.

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

View all posts by PJ Hamel