Start to Finish: 2 1/4 hours Servings: 10 Difficulty Level: Beginner
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If you're intimidated by the authentic French world of brioche, croissants and pastries, don't let that stop you from experimenting with the humble and comparatively simple baguette. After a few practice runs, you can take aim at the boulangeries -- bakeries -- in Paris, replicating the same intoxicating yeasty smell in your kitchen. With any luck, even your first loaves will be surprisingly close to the real French deal, even with the most straightforward of ingredients.
Dough 7/8 cup water 10 ounces all-purpose flour, or 2 ¼ cups 2 ounces bread flour, or 1/3 cup ½ teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Egg Wash 1 egg 1 tablespoon water
Topping Sea salt
Mixing the Dough
If you are using a bread machine, put the ingredients in order into the baking pan: wet first, then dry, making sure that the salt and the yeast don't touch. Press the "Dough" setting even if you have a "French bread" setting. You want to remove the dough and make it into the traditional, long narrow loaf, rather than leave it to bake as a squat, regular-sized loaf in the bread machine.
Keep an eye on the paddle as it mixes the dough. If the dough looks too dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of additional water, until it coheres thoroughly, forming a smooth ball with a softly glistening surface.
Shaping, Rising and Baking
Cut the dough in half with a dough cutter. Roll each half of the dough into a rectangle measuring about 10 by 4 inches, tugging on the corners as necessary to pull them out of their original oval shape. Roll up the rectangle along the long edge, holding the roll tightly so it doesn't unravel, and pinch the seam together. Roll the log-like dough out by hand, from the middle to the ends, so that it becomes longer and narrower, close to the classic baguette shape.
Place the loaves seam-side down on a baking pan lined with parchment. If you bake baguettes in quantity, you may find that perforated pans allow heat to reach the bottom of the loaf and moisture to escape more easily.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover the resting loaves with plastic film or a dishcloth and let them rise until they double, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Whisk together the egg and water, and brush the loaves with the egg wash using a pastry brush. Make three long, angled slashes across the loaves with a sharp knife. Sprinkle each loaf with a pinch of sea salt.
Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, give or take perhaps 2 minutes, depending on your oven. They are done when they smell baked and take on a golden-brown color.
- Measure your flours by weight, not volume, for greater ease and accuracy. A bowl on a digital scale works well.
- The popularizer of French cooking, Julia Child, recommends relying mainly on all-purpose unbleached flour, rather than bread flour, for results closest to French baguettes.
- Measure salt carefully and calibrate as needed -- the salt flavor is intrinsic to authentic French baguettes.
- Add multiple foldings to the dough roll to better develop the gluten, Child advises.
- Limit the length of your baguette to the length of the pan or width of your oven. You may end up with what properly is called a batard -- a shorter loaf -- rather than a baguette, noted Child in one of her televised programs.