This classic baguette is King Arthur Flour’s (KAF) June bakealong challenge. I made the baguettes. The recipe and the step-by-step instructions on the KAF website are well written and easy to follow. KAF have a special place in my heart, starting from artisan bread baking class I took there several years ago. Bread making has been my steady kitchen routine ever since that first class.
Baking baguettes does not happen often, so I need a refresher course from time to time just to be in the game. The key differences in baking baguettes and other hearth breads are two-fold: the shaping technique and the setup in the home oven.
My baguette shaping is OK, not great. What I fell short this time was loading the shaped baguettes from the sheet pan onto the peel. I successfully loaded one (out of three) in its intended shape onto the stone. The other two turned into snakes. All twisted. So I decided to reshape them again.
This post serves as a reminder of the potential pitfalls, together with some tips and the essential steps, to ensure a successful bake.
- Equipment: A baking stone (or pizza stone) is indispensable for baking baguettes. The trouble is the size of the baking stone, which is generally 16 inches long. It is not long enough to accommodate the typical baguettes which are over 20 inches in length. Even if you want to put two stones side by side, they won’t fit in a standard 36-inch oven. Furthermore, I have been using a pizza peel to load the baguettes in the oven, they often turn out crooked. The best devise I’ve found is probably a perforated baguette pan with wells for two or three loaves. You shape, proof and bake in the same pan. No transferring from the shaping sheet, to the peel and onto the stone is necessary. That lessens the chance for potential troubles.
- Recipe: Since my baguette pan can fit only two loaves, I have scaled the KAF recipe to make two loaves, instead of three. Each loaf weighs 250-300 gram. See the revised recipe below.
- Starter: The poolish takes less than 14 hours to get all bubbly in warmer temperature during the summer months. Your schedule may not allow you to mix the dough when the poolish is ready to go. In that case, keep the poolish in the refrigerator. Lower temperature delays the maturation of the starter. I put the poolish in the fridge overnight until I was ready to mix the dough in the morning.
- Fermentation: You can shorten bulk fermentation by keeping the dough inside the oven with the oven light on. Likewise you can extend fermentation time by using cold water when you mix the dough or by keeping the dough in a cooler spot in the house. Bulk fermentation took about 90 minutes the other day at an indoor ambient temperature at about 75°F. The dough almost doubled in bulk.
- Shaping: Shaping baguettes is more involved; it is critical to the thin crust and open crumb development. KAF has a good tutorial. I made the mistake of shaping the baguettes longer than 16 inches, the length of the baking stone. The crooked baguettes have to be reshaped when I messed up attempting to load them on the peel. I shaped them again and made them shorter. But in the process of reshaping the loaves, all the trapped air in dough were lost. The resulting crust and crumb structure were less than desirable. The baguettes tasted good but they lacked the shine and finesse of a well-baked one.
Classic Baguettes at HomePrint Recipe
- STARTER (POOLISH)
- 75g cool water
- 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
- 80g King Arthur all-purpose or bread flour
- 1 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
- 170g lukewarm water
- all of the starter
- 278g King Arthur all-purpose or bread flour
- 1 teaspoon or 7 gm salt
To make the starter: Mix everything together to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have expanded and become bubbly.
To make the dough: Mix and knead everything together — by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. If you're using a stand mixer, knead for about 4 minutes on medium-low speed (speed 2 on a KitchenAid); the finished dough should stick a bit at the bottom of the bowl.
Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-sized bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 90 minutes, gently deflating it, folding the edges into the center, and turning it over after 45 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Gently deflate it, and divide it into two equal pieces.
Round each piece of dough into a rough ball by pulling the edges into the center. Cover with a tea towel, and let rest for 15 minutes; or for up to 1 hour, if that works better with your schedule.
Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough slightly then fold it nearly (but not quite) in half, sealing the edges with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough around, and repeat: fold, then flatten. Repeat this whole process again; the dough should have started to elongate itself.
With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 16" log. Your goal is a 15" baguette, so 16" allows for the slight shrinkage you'll see once you're done rolling. Taper each end of the log slightly to create the baguette's typical "pointy" end.
Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment lined baguette pan. Cover them with a tea towel, and allow the loaves to rise until they're slightly puffy ("marshmallow-y" is the term used in KAF baking school). The loaves should certainly look lighter and less dense than when you first shaped them, but won't be anywhere near doubled in bulk. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature (about 68°F).
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F with a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, or on the lowest rack. If you're using a baking stone, place it on a middle rack. Start to heat 1 1/2 cups water to boiling.
Using a baker's lame (a special curved blade) or a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three to five long lengthwise slashes in each baguette.
Load the baguette pan onto the hot stone in the oven. Carefully pour the boiling water into the cast iron pan, and quickly shut the oven door. The billowing steam created by the boiling water will help the baguettes rise, and give them a lovely, shiny crust.
Bake the baguettes for 24 to 28 minutes, or until they're a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2", and allow the baguettes to cool completely in the oven, until both baguettes and oven are at room temperature.
Store any leftover baguettes in a paper bag overnight; freeze for longer storage. Thaw and reheat just before serving.
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour website.