How to Make the Best Authentic French Baguettes at Home
What makes the best French Baguette?
In a nutshell? That has to be a baguette with a dark golden crackly crust and a great open ear. As you cut the baguette open you are hit with smells signifying a well-fermented dough, as you lift the top off you are presented with an amazingly soft, open crumbed texture, begging for butter. It doesn’t get a lot better.
My favourite way to eat these is smeared with butter and filled with dijon mustard, proper ham, or mature cheddar cheese.
This recipe uses a poolish, otherwise known as a pre-fermentation. Don’t worry. it’s nothing complicated, you mix the yeast, flour and water, and leave that to ferment overnight for about 12-36 hours. This is great for adding extra flavour to your dough and helping to build the structure. In my opinion, it’s very difficult to get close to a good baguette if you skip this stage.
Baking a great baguette isn’t difficult, but to get the best possible result then it takes a little planning. I use two extended fermentation periods/proofs in this process. Both in my opinion are crucial for obtaining the best result.
While these baguettes take a little planning, the handling time is very little. You won’t be disappointed so I encourage you to give them a go. Remember that you can refer to the video tutorial linked on this page for visual help on the different stages of baking.
I'm about to cover some important points about the French Baguette but I also suggest you look at this article (video included). While sourdough focused, I discuss flour, hydration and how gluten develops over time in more detail (amongst other points).
How do I score baguettes?
When you look at a baked baguette it looks like the dough has been scored across the dough. This isn’t the case. The cuts are almost made in vertical lines running down the baguette.
Scoring will allow the dough to open up in a controlled manner. This is what gives that amazing ear that opens up during baking. If we didn’t score the dough it would randomly tear.
Place the baguette facing lengthways away from you. Imagine two parallel lines running down the centre of the top of the baguette about 1cm apart. These will be your imaginary borders and your cuts should stay inside these lines.
You can score the dough with a sharp knife but a razor blade or bread lame works best for this job. Hold the blade at a 45-degree angle and cut down into the dough (about 5mm deep). Begin the cut on the right side imaginary line and finish on the left. Start the next cut just above where the previous cut finishes and repeat. For baguettes of this size, you can score 4 times.
How to bake French Baguettes at home
Using a baking stone or baking steel with definitely improve the oven spring for your baguettes. The stone and the steel both retain heat during the oven pre-heat. When the dough is transferred to the stone or steel the heat is quickly transferred to the dough creating the “spring” in the dough. This helps with the open texture and the open ear which signifies a great baguette.
Which should I use? If you have both I would choose the steel over the stone as it retains and gives off more heat, resulting in better spring. Using a baking steel to bake larger loaves can sometimes result in the bottom over-cooking due to the higher heat retention and heat transfer. But for baguettes, this is perfect as they don’t need to cook for long due to their shape and speed of cooking. If you have a baking stone then that will work fine too, and there will be no danger of overcooking the bottom.
Creating steam in your oven will stop the crust from forming too quickly and help it expand during the initial part of the bake (again helping with open crumb & oven spring). You can heat a baking tray or a pan in the bottom of the oven. When you’ve transferred your baguettes to the oven you can add a little water (about 40ml approximately), or a couple of ice cubes to the baking tray or pan. I use a stainless steel chain (non-treated) coiled in a baking tray as my steam vessel. You can see that in the video.
Poolish or pre-ferment
150g strong bread flour (protein content 12% or higher)
150g room temperature water
3g instant dried yeast
303g of poolish (pre-fermented dough) from the above recipe
220g room temp water
13g sea salt
4g instant dried yeast
380g strong bread flour (protein content 12% or higher)
Times & temperatures
My kitchen temperature: 20c / 68f
Oven temperature: 250c / 485f
Oven setting: Bake mode (top & bottom heat with the fan turned off)
Bake time: 20 minutes
Watch the video tutorial
1. Mix the ingredients for the poolish (pre-fermentation) in a bowl, cover and leave in the fridge for 12-24 hours, or proof at room temperature for 12 hours. If your fridge is cold and the preferment is stalling then bring it out to room temperature to finish.
2. Once the mixture has risen, dropped back down, and the surface is covered with broken bubbles we are ready to make the main dough.
3. Add all of the ingredients for the main dough together in a large container or bowl and bring together into a rough dough. It doesn’t need to be smooth at this point. Cover and leave out at room temperature for 30 minutes.
4. Turn the dough out onto the work surface. You don’t need to use bench flour. Give the dough a quick 2 minute knead. The aim here is to make sure the dough is smooth and all of the ingredients are well incorporated. The gluten and strength in the dough will develop during the bulk fermentation stage. Cover and place in your fridge for 12-18 hrs.
5. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and shape it into balls. Leave to rest covered at room temperature for 20 minutes. I put these in a baking tray which I lightly coat with oil to stop them from sticking. I cover them with a large plastic bag.
6. Now it’s time to shape. I find it easier to work with two pieces of dough at a time. You can also stagger the bake this way. Use a little flour on the bench to stop the dough from sticking. Roll the dough up into a sausage shape, try not to de-gas the dough. Check the video for the technique I use. Rest covered, on the bench for 10 minutes, this will allow the dough to relax and make the next stage easier.
7. Roll the dough into a sausage again (please check the video), the aim is to lengthen the sausage shape and seal the dough down as you go. The last stage is to roll the sausage shape out and taper the ends of the dough.
8. Cover the baguettes and let them proof for about 45 minutes, the time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen. The baguettes are ready to bake when the dough feels gassy but not ready to collapse. The dough gently pushes back when softly pressed with your finger. Check the video for a visual guide.
9. Make sure your oven is preheated and if using a baking stone or baking steel I'd suggest pre-heating for an hour.
10. Dust the baguette with flour and score with a sharp knife or a razor blade. Cut a series of lines in the top of the baguette like I show in the video. You can also check the FAQ on scoring towards the bottom of this article.
11. Transfer to the oven and bake. Not forgetting to add water or ice to your baking tray to create steam.
12. After 10 minutes open the oven door to make sure there is no steam left in the oven (this will ensure the exterior begins to crisp up). Continue to bake for another 10 minutes until a deep golden brown colour. Be careful not to over-bake. Leave to cool and enjoy!
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What flour is the best to use for baking French Baguettes?
You should choose a flour that is suitable for baking bread, generally, a good strong flour works well. A good indication is the amount of protein content in the flour. I would use flour with a protein content of 12% and above. Some flours don’t display the protein content, so make sure it’s produced for bread making.
I discuss protein content in flour during the video in the article linked below.
How to shape French Baguettes
A proper baguette should be long and have tapered ends. Letting the dough rest between the shaping steps lets the dough relax making the shaping process a lot easier.
Try not to use too much flour on your work surface as the dough tends to slip around. A little sticky contact between the bench and the dough helps with the shaping process.
You can see the step by step guide on how to shape in the video further up on this page.
How long do I bake a French Baguette?
Baguettes should bake as quickly as possible which is why it’s helpful to use a baking stone or baking steel. Make sure you bake your baguettes at a high temperature. I set my oven to 250c or 480f and bake for 20 minutes.
Do I need a baker's couche to proof baguettes? Can I bake baguettes with a baguette pan?
A couche is a cloth used by bakers to prove their bread, it’s dusted with flour to stop the dough from sticking. It’s particularly helpful for proofing baguettes as it helps them keep their shape. You could use a tea towel dusted with flour instead.
You can also proof the baguette dough on non-stick baking paper as I show in the video. Another option is to use a baguette pan. You can proof the dough directly on the pan and then transfer them straight to the oven to bake.
What’s the secret to a proper crusty baguette?
The long fermentation helps develop the dough and produce a nice crispy, crusty crust. Adding steam to the oven by adding water or ice to a preheated baking tray or pan will help develop that crust.
Make sure that your oven temperature is nice and high, we want to cook these quickly to help with that crust, but avoid an over baked crumb. My oven’s max temperature is 250c / 480f and that works perfectly for baking at home.
Avoid burning the baguettes but don’t be afraid to get some colour on the outside. The taste and texture contrast is superb when done correctly.
What type of yeast Should I use to make Baguettes?
I bake with both fresh and dried yeast. I guess my preference would be fresh, but I’m not sure if I could tell the difference in a blind taste test. Especially when we use this type of pre-fermentation method. So use what you have to hand and don’t let the choice of yeast get in the way of baking.
Can you freeze baguettes?
Yes, you can. Let them cool completely to room temperature before wrapping tightly in cling film, or a plastic zip-lock bag. Place in the freezer. The baguettes will keep for several months but in my opinion, they are best consumed within two months of freezing. After defrosting you can warm them gently in a low oven.
You can also part bake the baguettes during the first bake and then freeze. Remove the baguettes from the oven as they begin to colour and leave to cool, wrap and then freeze. Defrost and bake at 220c / 430f until golden brown.
I’m not seeing any action with my poolish / pre-ferment
If you decide to put your pre-ferment in your fridge and you aren’t seeing any action then bring it out and leave it covered at room temperature. This may be a better option if your fridge is especially cold.
My dough is wet and sticky
Have you used the right flour to make your baguettes? You need a good strong bread flour with a protein content of 12% and above.
It’s helpful to remember that not all flour absorbs the same amount of water. Different grains, storage and absorption ability, all impact this element. Be prepared to adjust the water content slightly if you think your flour isn’t that thirsty.
Wholewheat flours have a high protein content, but they also have more retained bran and germ which can inhibit the gluten strength. When using wholewheat flour in your dough it is normal not to have as much spring or open texture.
I discuss flour during the video in this article:
My dough isn’t springing in the oven
Try to reduce the time of the last proofing stage. If the dough has been proofed to its maximum then it won’t have anything left, and won’t spring in the oven.
To test the dough, touch it gently with your finger. It should feel full with gas but not at the point of collapsing. After pressing it gently the dough should slowly push back.
Over proofing is the most common reason that bread doesn't spring in the oven (not just baguettes!). With a bit of experience, you will know when the right time to bake is.
Check my “how to make baguettes at home” section at the top of this post.
You should now be armed with all of the knowledge you need to make some amazing baguettes! Enjoy!
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