Real Live Honest-to-Louvre French Baguette

Mak­ing bread isn’t dif­fi­cult. Mak­ing baguette with that crisp, deep gold­en-brown crust and chewy insides with skil­lions of holes—it’s a chal­lenge. But the ingre­di­ents aren’t fan­cy or expen­sive: Yeast, flour, salt, water. You can afford some tri­al and error, and the end result is worth it!

  • Starter (Pool­ish):
  • 12 cup cool water
  • 116 tsp. active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 cup unbleached all-pur­pose flour
  • Dough:
  • 1 12 tsp. active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. luke­warm water
  • all of the starter
  • 3 12 cups unbleached all-pur­pose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt

“Poolish?” Quel est ce poolish?

If ya wan­na

To make the starter:

Mix every­thing togeth­er to make a soft dough. Cov­er and let rest at room tem­per­a­ture for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have expand­ed and become bub­bly.

To make the dough:

Mix and knead every­thing togeth­er — by hand, mix­er or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, some­what smooth dough; it should be cohe­sive, but the sur­face may still be a bit rough. If you’re using a stand mix­er, knead for about 4 min­utes on medi­um-low speed (speed 2 on a KitchenAid); the fin­ished dough should stick a bit at the bot­tom of the bowl.

Place the dough in a light­ly greased medi­um-sized bowl, cov­er the bowl, and let the dough rise for 90 min­utes, gen­tly deflat­ing it, fold­ing the edges into the cen­ter, and turn­ing it over after 45 min­utes.

Turn the dough out onto a light­ly greased work sur­face. Gen­tly deflate it, and divide it into three equal pieces.

Round each piece of dough into a rough ball by pulling the edges into the cen­ter. Cov­er with greased plas­tic wrap, and let rest for 15 min­utes; or for up to 1 hour, if that works bet­ter with your sched­ule.

Work­ing with one piece at a time, flat­ten the dough slight­ly then fold it near­ly (but not quite) in half, seal­ing the edges with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough around, and repeat: fold, then flat­ten. Repeat this whole process again; the dough should have start­ed to elon­gate itself.

With the seam side down, cup your fin­gers and gen­tly roll the dough into a 16″ log. Your goal is a 15″ baguette, so 16″ allows for the slight shrink­age you’ll see once you’re done rolling. Taper each end of the log slight­ly to cre­ate the baguet­te’s typ­i­cal “pointy” end.

Place the logs seam-side down onto a light­ly greased or parch­ment-lined sheet pan or pans; or into the folds of a heav­i­ly floured cot­ton dish tow­el (or couche). Cov­er them with light­ly greased plas­tic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise until they’re slight­ly puffy (“marshmallow‑y” is the term we use in our bak­ing school). The loaves should cer­tain­ly look lighter and less dense than when you first shaped them, but won’t be any­where near dou­bled in bulk. This should take about 45 min­utes to an hour at room tem­per­a­ture (about 68°F).

Towards the end of the ris­ing time, pre­heat your oven to 450°F with a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, or on the low­est rack. If you’re using a bak­ing stone, place it on a mid­dle rack. Start to heat 1 12 cups water to boil­ing.

If your baguettes have risen in a dish tow­el or couche, gen­tly roll them (seam side down) onto a light­ly greased (or parch­ment-lined) bak­ing sheet. If you plan on bak­ing them on a bak­ing stone, roll them onto a piece of parch­ment, and lift the parch­ment onto a bak­er’s peel.

Using a bak­er’s lame (a spe­cial curved blade) or a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three to five long length­wise slash­es in each baguette.

Load the baguettes into the oven. If you’re bak­ing on a stone, use a baker’s peel to trans­fer the baguettes, parch­ment and all, onto the hot stone. Care­ful­ly pour the boil­ing water into the cast iron pan, and quick­ly shut the oven door. The bil­low­ing steam cre­at­ed by the boil­ing water will help the baguettes rise, and give them a love­ly, shiny crust.

Bake the baguettes — on the pan, or on a stone — for 24 to 28 min­utes, or until they’re a very deep gold­en brown. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack. Or, for the very crispi­est baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2″, and allow the baguettes to cool com­plete­ly in the oven, until both baguettes and oven are at room tem­per­a­ture.

Store any left­over baguettes in a paper bag overnight; freeze for longer stor­age. Thaw and reheat just before serv­ing.