How to Make a Baguette
Let me share something with you: I love bread. Baking (and then eating) a piece of homemade bread is one of life’s most enjoyable simple pleasures. I’ll admit the process takes a bit of planning – and a few hours of downtime. And yet the results are incredibly rewarding and totally worth the effort. As someone who became obsessed with baking bread years ago and then worked in a professional bakery, I always advocate for home cooks trying to bake their own bread at home. Learning how to make a baguette is an easy and straightforward place to start.
Much like the simple fried chicken or the sky-high soufflé, a perfectly executed baguette is considered one of the best traits to judge a master culinary craft. French President Emmanuel Macron successfully lobbied for the slender loaves to be included on UNESCO’s list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ – a process that took six years to provide the necessary documentation! Home bakers tend to test the waters by baking boules, batards, and pan breads. A baguette, on the other hand, can be a bit more intimidating. In reality, these breads only require a handful of tools and ingredients you likely already have in the kitchen, and are doable by anyone with a hot oven and some time. Though your first attempt might not look exactly like your local bakery, learning how to make a baguette is all about practice (and enjoying the freshly baked result).
- 2 large mixing bowls or a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment
- digital scale*
- bank scraper
- Cast iron frying pan
- parchment paper
- baking tray
- Very sharp paring knife, razor blade or bread lame
- 1½ cups (355 g) warm (not hot!) tap water (between 105°F-115°F)
- 1½ tsp. (5 g) active dry yeast**
- 3¼ cups (462 g) all-purpose flour***
- 1¾ tsp. (5 g) kosher salt
- Neutral oil such as rapeseed, sunflower or vegetable oil for greasing
- 2 cups boiling water (very hot tap water works too)
*I highly recommend investing in a digital scale for any home baking project. In a professional bakery, each ingredient is measured in grams. There are a few key reasons for this: It’s incredibly easy to zoom in and out in multiples of 10 as needed, and gram measurements are more precise than pounds and ounces and more accurate than cups and tablespoons.
**Bread flour can also be used in this method, although its higher protein content makes for a ‘stronger’ dough with more elasticity to rise and shape.
***You are also welcome to replace the active dry yeast with instant dry yeast, but note that the fermentation time will be slightly faster when using the instant version. This cuts fermentation and fermentation times by about 15 minutes at each stage. I prefer to use active dry yeast in this recipe as a slower fermentation time results in a tastier end product.
Traditional baguettes are made with a type of sponge called poolish. This mixture of yeast, flour, and water is mixed a few hours in advance and then added to the final dough to increase its “stretchability” (i.e., stretchiness that makes it easier to shape). It also imparts a more complex and yeasty flavor to the final product than breads made with “straight dough” mixed without pre-dough. The breads are also often cold-cooked for several hours (and even overnight) to increase the depth of flavor as well. The method in this streamlined tutorial skips those steps and instead shortens the entire process to about four hours. If you want a head start (and a more pronounced flavor), cover the formed loaves with a tea towel and let them rise in the fridge overnight before scoring and baking the next morning as below.
In a large bowl, whisk together the water and active dry yeast and let sit at room temperature until slightly foamy, about 10 minutes. (If the yeast doesn’t start to foam on the surface, it’s probably past its prime. Discard it and grab some fresh yeast before proceeding.) Add the flour, then stir with a fork or yours Hand around until all the flour is absorbed and there are no dry pockets. Set aside to allow the flour to hydrate for 20 minutes.*
Lightly flour a clean work surface. Sprinkle salt over dough, then transfer to surface and knead until all salt is incorporated and dough is elastic and mostly smooth, 9-12 minutes. (If using a stand mixer, mix the dough on medium-low speed for 4-5 minutes.) Shape the dough into a ball. Lightly grease a clean, large bowl, place dough in, cover and set aside until dough has almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Note: The warmer and more humid the environment in your kitchen, the faster your dough will rise. During the colder months, one of my favorite techniques is to proof the dough right in my oven with the pilot light on or near a warm heater.
Hydrating and letting the dough rest before adding the salt is a process known as autolysis. This process allows gluten bonds to form gently—before you start working the dough—reducing kneading time and resulting in a more irregular, open crumb structure.
STEP 2: Stretch and fold the dough.
Imagine your ball of dough with four corners. Grab the top two corners (farthest from you) and lift them up and away from the sides of the bowl, folding them towards you. Rotate the bowl 180 degrees and repeat the process. Now do the same with the right and left sides. Your dough should now resemble a folded envelope. Carefully remove the “envelope” from the bowl, turn it over and place it back in the bowl, seam side down. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and return to a warm area until doubled in size again, another 45 minutes to an hour.
You may be used to seeing bread recipes that instruct you to “beat down” the dough (in other words, to rid the dough of any gases formed during the fermentation process). I don’t like doing this here because removing these gases can result in a denser loaf. Instead, this folding process helps redistribute trapped gases and ensure a more even temperature throughout the dough.
STEP 3: Cut the dough into three pieces.
Gently transfer the dough to your lightly floured surface, again being careful not to over-empty it. Place a large cast iron skillet on the bottom of your oven, set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 450ºF. Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, divide the dough into three equal pieces (credit here if you have a kitchen scale!). Roll each piece into a tight oval (the dough should be springy when you prick it with your finger). Cover the ovals with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let stand at room temperature until dough is “relaxed,” 15–20 minutes.
STEP 4: Shape the baguettes and let them rise
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, dust lightly with flour and set aside. Press one of the pieces of dough lightly on the lightly floured work surface and pull it into a rectangle. Take the top two corners and fold them toward you, stopping halfway. Repeat with the bottom corners (away from your body this time). The dough should now resemble a tube with a seam running down the middle. Place the tube seam side down and repeat the process with the other two pieces of dough.
Then go back to the first tube: position your hands in the middle, then gently roll the strand of dough back and forth, applying pressure to both ends and lengthening the dough as you go. Repeat this process a few times until the loaf is about 16 inches long and tapered at the ends. Continue with the other two pieces of dough, then place the baguettes, seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with cling film or a very slightly damp tea towel and let stand at room temperature until loaves are slightly puffed up and dough springs back when gently poked with finger, 20-30 minutes.
STEP 5: Score and bake baguettes.
After you’ve scored your baguettes, you’ll want to load them into the oven as quickly as possible, so make sure it’s fully preheated before proceeding.
Using a sharp knife or razor blade held at a 30-degree angle, make four evenly spaced cuts along the top of each baguette. If you have a spray bottle handy, give the loaves a light splash of water, then quickly and carefully place the baking sheet in the oven, pour at least 2 cups of boiling water into the hot cast iron skillet and close the oven door. Bake the loaves until golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Remove the baguettes from the oven and do your best to let them cool before dipping.
A steaming oven is crucial for a good rise and a thin and crispy crust. The steam created by the initial heat of the pan fills the oven, then condenses and settles on the surface of the loaves. This moisture keeps the outside of the dough hydrated and springy, allowing for more “oven spring” as the loaves bake. Without steam, the outer layer of bread will “crisp” before the internal temperature has risen enough for the gases to expand, and your bread may end up being dense, hard, and bulky.
Tip: Most domestic ovens have vents that vent steam, usually above and behind the hob. To retain as much steam as possible, I recommend blocking these openings with a rolled-up kitchen towel while baking – every bit of steam helps!
How to store leftover baguettes
Baguettes tend to get stale within a day or two, and leftovers are best stored at room temperature in a bread box or waxed canvas or plastic bag. Completely cooled bread can also be wrapped tightly in plastic and kept in the freezer for several weeks. And should you find yourself with stale leftovers, don’t throw them out. I like to dice stale bread, toast it in a 375°F oven until golden brown, then toss it in a little olive oil and savory seasoning to make croutons. Or just pop the cubes into the food processor and grind them into homemade breadcrumbs.