- Skill Level: Moderate
- Cost: Inexpensive
- Favorited: 92 Times
Can be made ahead of time.
This popular bread is what most people think of as “French bread.” These long, crisp, and crusty loaves are beloved and remembered by everyone who has ever visited France.
A good baguette is not particularly difficult to prepare, but requires time. Long, slow fermentation develops both the flavor and texture of this relatively plain bread, and that part of the process cannot be rushed. Plan on starting the process the morning of the day before you intend to bake the baguettes—the dough only requires about 10 minutes of attention on the first day, then an equal amount of time for shaping the following day.
1. To make the sponge, in a 3-quart mixing bowl place the water and sprinkle the yeast on the surface. Add the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until it forms a heavy paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, until the sponge has doubled, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
2. For the dough, remove the sponge from the refrigerator and stir in the 1 cup of flour and the salt. Knead by hand to form a smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky dough, about 5 minutes. Incorporate the remaining flour, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too soft.
To mix the dough in the food processor, place the sponge, 1 cup of flour, and salt in a work bowl fitted with a metal blade. Pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball (if the dough will not form a ball, add the remaining flour, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the ball forms). Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then let the machine run continuously for 20 seconds.
To mix the dough in a heavy-duty mixer, place the sponge, 1 cup of flour, and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed to form a smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky dough, about 5 minutes. Incorporate the remaining flour, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too soft.
3. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough over so the top is oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until the dough has doubled, about 1 hour or so.
4. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and deflate the dough by folding it over on itself 5 or 6 times. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover again with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and deflate the dough as in step 4, above. Divide the dough into three equal pieces (about 7 ounces each). Cover two pieces loosely with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a sphere by tucking the bottom under and in toward the center all around. Press and stretch the ball of dough into a 12 × 6-inch rectangle. Working with the long edge, fold the dough in thirds. Pinch to seal the seam. Use the side of your hand to press a depression lengthwise down the center of the dough. Pinch the sides of the depression together so the dough forms a tight cylinder, then roll the cylinder back and forth under your palms to lengthen it. Extend the ends slightly so they form points. Arrange the loaves seam side down on the prepared pan. Dust the loaves very lightly with flour and cover them with a piece of oiled plastic wrap or a lightly floured towel, then allow to rise until the loaves have doubled in volume, about 1 hour or so.
6. About 30 minutes before you intend to bake the loaves, set the racks at the middle and lowest levels of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Set a pan on the lowest rack. You will pour water into it to make steam during the initial part of the baking.
7. Open the oven, then averting your face, quickly pour a cup of hot water into the hot pan. Close the oven for a minute. Use a razor blade or the point of a very sharp knife to make 3 to 4 diagonal slashes across each loaf. Avert your face again and immediately place the pan with the slashed loaves in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees. In 10 minutes, pour another ½ cup water into the pan.
8. About 20 minutes after the loaves have gone into the oven, remove the water pan and lower the temperature again to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes longer, or until the bread is well risen and a dark golden color. It should reach an internal temperature of about 210 degrees.
9. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack.
Serving: Slice the bread about ½ inch thick with a sharp serrated knife.
Storage: On the day it is baked, keep the bread loosely covered at room temperature. For longer storage, wrap in plastic and freeze for up to 1 month.
The recipe serves 30.