French Bread for Baguettes & Other Loaves

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Complex

  • Makes

    4

    loaves of French bread, each about 18 inches long

Appears in

A simple French bread, such as a baguette, isn’t difficult to prepare, but the dough needs long rests and rising time to develop flavor. The work of preparing the dough is easy and not very time consuming, but you have to plan on starting early and making it on a day when you’ll be home for most of the day to monitor the risings of the dough. Shaping variations are given at the end of the recipe so you’ll be able to produce a variety of different breads from this one easy-to-prepare dough.

Ingredients

First Dough

  • 1 cup room-temperature water
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)

Second Dough

  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons (about envelopes/ ounce/11 grams) active dry yeast
  • cups warm water, about 110°F (45°C)
  • 2 jelly-roll pans dusted with cornmeal

Method

  1. To make the first dough, combine the water and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Use a large rubber spatula to stir them together. Place the bowl on the mixer with the paddle and beat the dough on the lowest speed, stopping and scraping down the bowl and beater a couple of times while the dough is mixing, until the dough is elastic and clings around the paddle, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer, remove the paddle, and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 1 hour.
  2. To make the second dough, place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir well to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk the yeast into the water. Use a large rubber spatula to stir the yeast liquid into the flour and salt. Continue stirring until the dough is evenly moistened, but it will not be particularly smooth—this doesn’t matter at this point. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until the first dough is finished resting. It will begin rising while it’s resting.
  3. An hour after setting the first dough to rest, scrape the second dough over it in the mixer bowl. Use a large rubber spatula to mix the two doughs together as well as possible.
  4. Place the bowl on the mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed just until the two doughs are thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Start the mixer again on low speed and mix the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.
  6. Scrape the dough from the mixer bowl into an oiled mixing bowl and turn the dough over so that the top is oiled. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until it is very aerated and more than doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
  7. Scrape the dough out to a floured work surface and fold it over on itself several times. Return it to a freshly oiled bowl and turn it so that the top is oiled. Cover again and let the dough rest for 1 hour.
  8. To shape the baguettes, scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and use a knife or a bench scraper to divide it into 4 equal pieces. Gently press each piece of dough, without deflating it too much, into a rectangle, approximately 9 inches (23 cm) wide and 7 to 8 inches (13 to 20 cm) long. Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the two shorter edges inward about 1 inch ( cm., then roll up the dough jelly-roll style from one of the 9-inch (23-cm) sides. Pinch the dough together to seal the seam. Place the partially formed baguette-aside under a towel and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  9. Starting with the first baguette that you shaped, roll the dough under the palms of both hands to elongate it. Don’t flour the work surface or the dough will just slide back and forth and not roll well. Press a little harder over the ends to taper them. Arrange the loaves, equidistant from each other and the sides of the pan, as they are formed, on the prepared pans. Remember to place them seam side down.
  10. Cover each pan with a towel and let the loaves rise until they have doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room.
  11. About 20 minutes before the loaves are completely risen, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425°F (220°C).
  12. Before baking the loaves, uncover them and use a single-edge razor blade to slash a series of diagonal cuts into the top of each loaf, holding the blade at about a 25-degree angle to the top of the loaf. Make 4 to 5 cuts in each loaf.
  13. Bake the baguettes for about 15 minutes, then switch the pan in the lower third of the oven to the upper third and vice versa, turning each pan from back to front at the same time.
  14. Continue baking until they are well risen, deep golden, and feel firm to the touch, 10 to 15 additional minutes. Slide the baked baguettes onto racks to cool.

Serving

A baguette is a truly all-purpose bread. Use it as bread with a meal, split for sandwiches, or thinly slice on the diagonal and toast for dips and spreads. Any leftover bread that becomes stale makes excellent bread crumbs.

Storage

Keep the bread loosely covered on the day it is baked. Wrap tightly and freeze for longer storage. Defrost and reheat at 375°F (190°C), directly on the oven rack, for 7 to 8 minutes, and cool on a rack before serving.

Variations

Wheat-Sheaf Loaf (Epi): This is a great way to increase the ratio of crust to crumb in a baguette. After the baguettes have risen, use scissors to cut through the dough at a 45-degree angle to each side, in alternating cuts. Start at the top of the loaf and make 3 to 4 cuts on each side. After cutting through the loaf, pull the points of the cut areas outward, so that they resemble branches. Needless to say, you must be very gentle with the risen dough during the cutting and shaping or it will deflate. Bake just as you would for baguettes.

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