Authentic Baguettes at Home

People travel for different reasons. I usually travels with two main goals. (1) Appreciate the local culture by trying to meet and interact with regular people (i.e. those outside the main-stream tourist industry). And (2), eat as much of the local food as possible. While my first goal is nearly impossible in well-trodden Paris, my second goal is always the Parisian-equivilent of a home run. Paris is perhaps the worlds great culinary city (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Crusty, open texture

Crusty, open texture

I am not alone when I say that one of my favorite simple pleasures about Paris are the deliciously ubiquitous baguettes. Always warm and fresh; a Parisian treasure for just €1. Here in the US the baguettes are usually lacking in flavor or crusty texture, but if you are lucky they can sometimes be found. When this recipe first came out, I balked at the length, complexity and additional kitchen gadgets the recipe required (couche, flipping board, diastatic malt powder, and special lame). In the end, I didn’t buy any of the gadgets, but made the delicious baguettes over two-to-three days. They turned out amazing. 5-stars for flavor and texture.

On a side note: the second great city for bread is my home town of San Francisco, which has the best sour dough bread in the world. As is the case for many things in life, it wasn’t until I moved away that I came to appreciate San Francisco’s uniqueness in the world of bread (for a few details see harvesting wild yeast for sourdough). A few years ago, I bought a loaf of Sour Dough from Panera in New Jersey, but the loaf was soundly rejected by my boys.

Comments:

  1. The recipe calls for a flipping board, but Chris Kimball explains that you can just table a double layer of cardboard.
  2. The first 5 minutes of baking call for two inverted disposable pans. Because I didn’t have one long enough to cover the loaves, I cut the ends off both pans which allowed it to slide like an accordion.
  3. The optional diastatic malt powder called for in this recipe allows the crust to brown and become crispier.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $2.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start: At least 2 days before baking. End time: 5 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour (1-1/3 ounces)
3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (15 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon diastatic malt powder (optional)
1-1/2 cups water (12 ounces)
2 disposable aluminum roasting pans (16″x12″)

Day 1: Mix the dough, allow to rise and refrigerate. (2h15m)

  1. Add whole wheat flour to a fine-mesh strainer and sift into the bowl of a standing mixer; discarding the bran. Add the all-purpose flour, salt, instant yeast and malt powder too. With the standing mixer on low-speed, use the dough hook, add the water and mix for 5 to 7 minutes until dough forms. Empty dough into a large bowl that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Fold the dough over onto itself; pick up the edge of the dough with your fingertips and gently lift it towards the center of the bowl; turn bowl 45 degrees and fold again; repeating a total of 8 folds. Again, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  3. Repeat folding and rising 3 more times. Immediately after the fourth set of folds, cover the dough and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours, but up to 72 hours.

Day 2: Shape and Bake the loaves in two batches ( per batch)

  1. Lightly flour a counter and empty dough without deflating. Carefully pat into 8″-square, and cut in half. Refrigerate the other half of the dough which can be shaped and baked anytime within the 72-hour time frame.
  2. Cut dough in half again, leaving you with two 2″x2″ squares. Move to a lightly floured rimmed baking sheet and loosely cover with plastic wrap; allowing to rise for 45 minutes.
  3. Roll out each of the two pieces of dough into a 3″x4″-long cylinder. Return to the floured baking sheet, cover again with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  4. On a second baking sheet, lightly spray with water the underside of a couche or piece of parchment. Dust the top with flour.
  5. Return the dough to a lightly floured counter and gently press one of the pieces into a 6″x4″ rectangle. Fold 1-inch over to form a 6″x3″ rectangle, then fold the other 1-inch edge over to form a 6″x2″ rectangle, and gently stretch into an 8″x2″ rectangle.
  6. Fold dough in half again, lengthwise, and use your thumb to form a crease along the center of the dough, as you work your way folding over the length of the loaf, using the heel of your hand to reinforce the seal (without pressing down on the loaf).
  7. Cup your hands gently over the center of the dough and roll it gently to tighten the dough (t should form a doggy-bone shape, i.e. wider at the ends).  Continue to gently work the dough, beginning in the center, rolling and stretching, and working towards the ends, until the dough measures 15″ long and about 1-1/2″ wide. Roll the ends between the palms of your hands to form sharp points.
  8. Move loaf with the seam-side upwards onto the couche or parchment prepared in Step 4. Pleat the couche on both sides of the loaf which will gently help the loaf maintain its shape. Loosely cover with large, unscented plastic garbage bag.
  9. Repeat Steps 5 though 8 with the second piece of dough, then move the loaves inside the large trash bag and fold top over onto itself to close. Allow to rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until it has doubled in size. You should be able to gently poke and the dough will slightly spring back.
  10. Meanwhile, set a rack to the middle of your oven, put a baking stone or overturned sheet pan, and begin pre-heating to 500-degrees. Also line a pizza peel with 16″x12″ piece of parchment paper, so that the long edge is perpendicular to handle.
  11. Remove and dough from bag and pull the ends of the couche to flatten (ie, removing the pleats). Use a flipping board to roll so that it is seem side down, and tilt/flip the loaf on top of the flipping board. Move to parchment lines pizza peal with the seem-side down; about 2″ from the edge of parchment. You can use the flipping board to straighten the loaf. Repeat with the second loaf, leaving at least 3″ between the two loaves.
  12. Use the lame to make a series of three 4″-long, 1/2″-deep slashed at a 30-degree angle across the length of the loaf. The slashes should slightly overlap. Repeat the slashing on the second loaf.
  13. Use Pizza peel to move loaves and parchment onto baking stone. Use the inverted disposable pans to cover loaves and bake for 5 minutes. Then carefully remove the plans a continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes longer; rotating the loaves/parchment half way through baking. The loaves will be done when they are evenly browned.
  14. Allow to cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes, but be sure to consume within 4 hours. I was able to extend their freshness by a few hours by putting them in a plastic bag after 2 hours of cooling.
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5 Responses to Authentic Baguettes at Home

  1. Just found your blog and it saved me from making a huge mistake with pork pernil which I am making for the Super Bowl, though I am here commenting on the baguette recipe. I have made this bread 4 or 5 times and I think it’s very good but as a lover of the bread of France, I don’t think the crust is right. At least mine is too chewy rather than crunchy. The taste is great but the texture of the bread is too dense and the crust, as I said, is too chewy. Any thoughts?

    Love your blog. I, too, am a big fan of Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated.

  2. Michael Dillon says:

    Somehow I thought I was supposed to put the uncovered roast in the oven at 500 degrees for 2.5 hours after the initial covered braising based on the notes I took from the PBS show. I very nearly did that and then reread your recipe. For me this recipe was a huge mess. It took me hours to clean the glass roasting pan and I very nearly lost the tips of my fingers.

    I bought an oven stone for baking bread, got the diastatic malt powder and made the lame from cardboard. I had some linen tea towels for the couche (cotton ones work just fine), and the large aluminum foil pans so I was set there. Since I first made this bread, and I have about 6 times, an new bakery has opened in Milwaukee where I live and it produces the most credible french bread I’ve ever had outside of France. The loaves are a little larger than they are in France but the taste and the crustiness and perfect interior are all good. The only problem is that he sells out really fast in the morning. And like real French bread, you have to buy it the day you plan to eat it.

    This weekend I am making his (Christopher Kimball’s) Mexican beef tacos. Boneless short ribs.

  3. Rochelle says:

    Regarding travel culinary experiences, I recommend you visit the country of Georgia- relatively unknow, uoncdertravelled, and cheap. It has excellent breads, hundreds of grape varieties for númerous wines based upon thousands of years of wine making, fascinating cheeses, & unusual foods. It is also a beautiful country with many different ecosystems and cultures.
    Kids have a lot of outdoor activities to do. D
    France is well known. I Loved exploring Georgia!

  4. RandySea says:

    I can’t see any way to post questions or comments on the original Cooks Illustrated recipe page, so I will post here.

    1. What temp should the water be? Cold tap, room, warm, or doesn’t matter?

    2. Does the 500° oven temp apply to convection or conventional ovens? In the CI photo at step #15, it is a convection oven but no way to tell if it is in convection mode.

    3. I found Organic Diastatic Malt Flour. I assume this is the same as diastatic malt powder.

    4. Instead of straining whole wheat flour, I use whole wheat white flour. It is ground as fine as the all purpose flour.

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