On my last trip to Paris, I reserved dinner at a cozy piano bar/restaurant in the 6th for the night of my arrival. When we sat down, I was still pretty delirious and jet-lagged, so I wasn’t really paying attention to anything other than my friends who were chatting with me. In fact, for a moment there, I completely forgot I was sitting in a cafe in Paris, France. It wasn’t until I absent-mindedly put a torn piece of baguette from the bread basket into my mouth that I realized I was in my favorite city in the world. I immediately thought oh my goodness! The bread tasted incredible! Seriously, truly incredible. It tasted the way bread in France can only taste. A lot of people ask me how to make homemade French baguettes like that, but non, ce n’est pas possible.
It’s not that you’re not a great baker, because even great chefs in American bakeries can never deliver true French baguettes. French bread tastes so good because French bread is, simply put, French! What I mean is that French bread is made with French flour, which is produced from French grains. Setting aside the fact that French bakers have been making bread their whole lives, the simple fact remains that the basic ingredient in which we make our bread differs. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make some pretty damn good baguettes at home here in America. These homemade French baguettes are proof!
Making homemade French baguettes doesn’t have to be an intimidating project. For this recipe, you don’t use a starter or any other kind of fancy ingredient. Instead, this bread gets lots of flavor from an overnight rise. Letting the dough rest in a covered bowl in the fridge overnight allows the yeast to slowly impart its flavor in the dough. The original recipe called for instant yeast, but I never have instant yeast on hand. Instead, I activate my active dry yeast with some warm water, and then mix ice cold water into the dough to slow down the yeast process. There’s hardly any kneading with this dough too, which makes it even easier. After baking the dough, you’re left with superb French baguettes that are crisp and light, with a soft and chewy interior. The taste is also wonderful; I recently made a sandwich au jambon with my baguette and I almost fooled myself into thinking I was enjoying a real French sandwich made with a real French baguette!
- 4.5 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 1.75 tsp salt
- 1.5 tsp active yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (110°F)
- 1.5 cups iced cold water
- olive oil for greasing
- To a small bowl, add the active yeast. Follow with the warm water and give the mixture a gentle stir. Let this mixture rest for 5 minutes.
- Combine the yeast mixture with the rest of the ingredients (flour, salt, cold water) in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed with the paddle attachment. Let the dough mix for approximately 1 minute. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then mix again on low speed for another 1 minute.
- Grease your work surface with some olive oil. Turn out the dough onto the oiled surface. Now, grab one end of the dough and stretch it out before bringing the flap in towards the center. Repeat this step for the remaining 3 sides of the dough to create a square pocket shape with a total of 4 flaps that have been folded into the center. Turn the dough over so that all the flaps are facing downward and the smooth side of the dough is facing upward. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Repeat this step with the stretching and folding, then 10 minute rest, 2 more times.
- Grease the mixing bowl with olive oil, then transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap; refrigerate the dough overnight. Note: Dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
- The next day, place the covered bowl of dough out on the counter 1 hour prior to baking. Preheat the oven to 525°F. Place a heavy pan (cast iron preferably) on the lowest rack in the oven to preheat with the oven.
- After an hour, very gently turn the dough out onto a greased work surface. You want to do this as carefully as possible so as to not disturb the bubbles in the dough. Gently shape the dough into a slight rectangle (just so that it's a little bit bigger than a square). Next to the greased area, sprinkle some flour on your work surface.
- Now take a pizza cutter, and cut one strip of dough off the rectangle. Gently roll this strip of dough onto the floured area of your work surface so that the entire surface area of the dough is dusted in flour. Transfer the strip to a baking sheet or a baguette pan. Note: You should ideally end up with 4 baguettes (a couple of them can be smaller and the other two larger, or all of them can be medium sized - your choice!). Each strip of dough should measure about 13 inches long. If you can't fit all 4 strips of dough onto the baking sheet, then bake the ones you can and loosely cover the remaining dough with a sheet of plastic wrap while the other dough bakes.
- Open the oven door and cover the glass with a towel. Very carefully add half a cup of warm water to the cast iron pan to create steam. Place your baking sheet into the oven on the middle rack, then remove the towel. Lower the temperature to 475°F and bake the baguettes for 16 to 20 minutes until golden brown (baking time will depend on the size of the baguettes). Cool the baguettes on a wire cooling rack.