How to Make French Baguette
This classic French baguette recipe breaks down the step-by-step process to achieve artisan homemade baguettes! This recipe produces authentic French baguettes with a crusty outside and a fluffy, chewy inside.
French Baguette Recipe Overview
Skill Level: Advanced | Techniques Used: Pre-Ferment (Poolish) & Stretch & Fold Method for Bread Making
Baguette is a classic French loaf of bread that is characterized by its long, thin shape and crispy crust. French baguette is a lean dough, meaning there is no fat present in the dough, which creates a chewy texture inside of the loaf. The word baguette in French means baton or stick, and therefore is sometimes referred to as “French stick bread.”
The process of making an authentic French baguette recipe takes a little time and some understanding of bread technique. However, the best way to perfect the baguette craft is to practice. Making this simple rustic bread is extremely rewarding.
Tips, Tricks, & Techniques
- To truly get a full understanding of the whole process of making French baguette, read the entire post and recipe through before starting to make the bread. This will ensure a complete understanding of the timing and techniques.
- While most of the special equipment used to make bread dough is optional and can be mimicked with other kitchen items, a kitchen scale is the one piece of equipment that is very highly recommended. A scale is a small investment and by far the best way to accurately measure ingredients for bread dough.
- The water used in this recipe is slightly cooler (90 F, 32 C) than in most bread recipes. This is due to the long fermentation period needed.
- French baguette dough is a very wet dough. It is important not to add more flour than the recipe states. Keep your fingers damp when working with the dough to prevent sticking.
- Due to the high hydration ratio, this dough is essentially a no-knead bread. In order to form the gluten structure that kneading produces, the bread is fermented for a longer period of time with several brief stretch and folds throughout.
How to Make French Baguette
There is not one single authentic technique for making French baguette, rather many ways to approach it. This technique will produce artisan loaves that have a thin crispy crust with characteristic large holes in the chewy center.
Note: I prefer to utilize Red Star’s Platinum Superior Baking Yeast for my baguettes because it increases oven spring and creates a beautiful texture for the bread. However, you can also use their quick rise yeast. Active dry yeast can be used in place of the instant or rapid rise yeasts, but the fermentation period needs to be increased. See recipe notes.
Mix the Poolish
Most French baguettes start out with a baguette starter, also known as a pre-ferment. This means that some of the water, some of the flour, and a little yeast is mixed together and allowed to ferment before the final dough is mixed.
This recipe utilizes a poolish, which is a French pre-ferment that has a high ratio of water to flour. The advantage of adding a poolish to the dough is that it greatly improves the flavor and texture of the dough. The poolish is mixed together at least 6 hours before and up to 10 hours before making the dough. I recommend doing this the night before making the bread.
Mix the Dough
After the poolish has fermented, it is combined with the rest of the ingredients for the dough. A baguette is a lean dough so it literally only contains 4 ingredients: water, flour, yeast, and salt.
Stir together all of the ingredients for the dough. At first it will seem like there isn’t enough water and you may need to use your hands to lightly knead the dough in the bowl. The dough will come together. Do not add more flour or water. The dough will look shaggy at this point, but you do not want to knead it after all of the flour is hydrated.
The Stretch & Fold
Baguette dough is a very wet (high hydration) dough. Because of this, the dough is not kneaded as it is with many other bread doughs. Rather, it is allowed to slowly ferment with a series of brief stretch and folds.
The stretch and fold technique serves three purposes: redistributes heat within the dough, puts yeast back in contact with its food source, and layers the gluten to build the gluten structure within the dough.
The dough will ferment for 2 hours, with 3 rounds of brief stretch and folds between each 30 minutes. To stretch and fold, lightly damp your fingers (this will help the dough not to stick) and pull up on the side of the dough and fold it back down on itself. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Do this until you have stretched and folded all 4 sides of the dough. Turn the dough over, cover, and allow it to ferment for 30 more minutes until the next round.
Prep the Oven
To prep your oven you need a surface to bake the loaves on as well as a surface to create steam. The oven should be preheating for at least an hour before baking so that every part of it is extremely hot.
A baking stone or baking steel are by far the best surfaces to bake bread on. If you do not have one of these, then you can use a sheet pan turned upside down. Position your baking surface on the middle rack in your oven.
To create steam in your oven, preheat a cast iron or other oven proof skillet on the very bottom rung in your oven. You want the skillet to get very hot so when you throw ice cubes into it in the oven it will immediately start evaporating, creating steam. This helps with oven spring and the texture of the bread.
Pre-Shape and Rest the Dough
After the dough has fermented, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Next, pre-shape the dough. The point of this process is to start creating tension in the dough so that it will rise up instead of spread out.
Pat the dough into a rectangle and then pull out on the short sides. Bring the short sides into the center and press with your finger tips to seal. Then bring the long ends into the center and press to seal. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes to let the gluten relax before the final shaping.
Shape the Dough
After the dough has rested, shape the dough by folding down on the long sides and sealing in the center several times until a tight log forms. Keep your fingers damp while doing this to prevent the dough from sticking.
With the seam side down, roll the dough into about 14″ (35 cm) long loaves. Transfer the shaped loves, seam side down, to a lightly floured lint free cloth or baker’s couche to rest. Push the cloth up around each loaf to create folds that will help the dough hold its shape.
Let the Baguettes Rise
Cover the baguettes and let them rise until about double in size. This should take about 45 minutes.
Transfer & Score the Baguettes
Once the baguettes have risen, transfer them onto a parchment lined pizza peel, unrimmed baking sheet, or sheet pan turned upside down. This way you can slide the parchment right onto the hot baking surface.
To transfer the dough, use a baguette board, or a small cutting board. I have a small wooden cutting board that I use to flip the baguette onto it by pulling up on the towel and then flip it back onto the parchment paper.
Using a sharp knife or a bread lame, score the top of the baguettes. The cuts should be going vertical at a slight angle down the baguette about 1/4″ (0.5 cm) deep. The start of the next slash should overlap slightly with the end of the slash before it.
Bake the Baguettes
Fill a bowl up with about 2 cups worth of ice cubes and set it near the oven. You will need to work quickly and carefully.
Open the oven and slide the parchment with the baguettes onto the preheated surface. Pour the ice cubes into the hot skillet and quickly close the oven door. Bake the baguettes until they are golden brown and sound hallow when tapped.
Perfecting the art of making artisan homemade French baguettes takes practice. But even imperfect ones taste incredible and each attempt unveils a deeper understanding of the process.
If you enjoyed this tutorial you might also enjoy my authentic ciabatta bread recipe. Ciabatta uses a bit of a different method, but is very similar and is essentially the Italian equivalent to the baguette.
- The Professional Pastry Chef
- Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast
- On Food & Cooking
- How to Make Baguette tutorial from Breadtopia
For the Poolish
- 89 gr (3/4 cup) bread flour
- 89 gr (6 TBSP + 1 tsp) filtered water, slightly warm (about 90 F, 32 C)
- 1 gr (1/4 tsp) Red Star Platinum Yeast or Red Star Quick-Rise Yeast
For the Final Dough
- 209 gr (1 3/4 cup) bread flour
- 62 gr (2.2 oz, 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
- 163 gr (1/2 cup + 3 TBSP) filtered water, slightly warm (about 90 F, 32 C)
- 1 gr (1/4 tsp) Red Star Platinum Yeast or Red Star Quick-Rise Yeast
- 6 gr (1 1/4 tsp) Morton Kosher salt (use the same amount by weight of other kinds of salt. If using Diamond Kosher, the same amount would be about 2 2 1/2 tsp)
- Make the Poolish: The night before making your baguettes or at least 6 hours before, make the poolish. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the poolish. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature for at least 6 hours, but preferably 8-10 hours.
- Combine the Dough: Add the rest of the ingredients for the baguette dough into the bowl with the poolish. Stir until well combined. It will appear as if there is not enough liquid at first, but as you work it together it will become a sticky dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it slightly to hydrate all the flour. As soon as all of the flour is hydrated and you have a shaggy dough with no dry spots, cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and let it set at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Stretch and Fold: After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, you will do a series of three stretch and folds with the dough. With the dough still in the bowl, lightly dampen your hand (this will prevent the dough from sticking) and pull on one side of the dough and stretch it up and then fold it down over the top of the dough. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and do the same with the next side. Do this again until you have stretched all four sides of the dough up and over on itself. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 30 more minutes. Stretch and fold the dough for the second round. Cover and let rest for 30 more minutes. Stretch and fold for the third round. Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 more minutes. This is a two hour process from when the dough is mixed to when it is ready to be shaped. Four 30 minute resting periods with three stretch and folds in between.
- Prep the Oven & Other Equipment: During the final resting period, prep your pans and your oven. Position one oven rack in the very bottom position in the oven and another rack in the middle position. Place a cast iron skillet or another heatproof skillet on the bottom rack and a baking stone, baking steal, or a sheet pan turned upside down on the middle rack. Preheat your oven to 500F (260C). You want your oven and pans to be heating for at least an hour before the bread goes into the oven. You will also need to set up a lightly floured lint free towel or baker's couche to let your shaped dough rise on. Additionally, prepare a pizza peel or an unrimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
- Pre-Shape & Rest the Dough: If you have a scale, weigh the dough and divide it in two equal pieces by cutting it (do not tear it). Each piece should be about 305 grams each. You can also eyeball this if you do not have a scale. On a very lightly floured surface, press one piece of dough out into a rectangle and gently stretch the short ends out. Fold each short end into the center and press down with your fingertips to seal. Fold each long end into the center and press with your fingertips to seal, creating a seam in the dough. Set the dough aside and repeat this process with the second piece. Cover the pieces of dough with plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.
- Shape into Baguettes: With the seam side up, press the first piece of dough into a thin rectangle. Starting at the top left edge, begin folding down the dough about 1/2" (1.5 cm) and sealing it with your fingertips, working your way across the top. Repeat this process, continuing to fold down on the dough and sealing to create a tight log. Once you have a thin, tight log, turn it seam side down. Using both hands, roll the dough on the counter-top, working it into a long thin snake shape. Try to keep the dough as even as possible and work it into about a 14" (36 cm) baguette. Move the piece of dough to your prepared towel or baker's couche. Push the towel or couche up on both sides of the baguette to create folds to hold the dough's shape. Repeat this process with the second piece of dough.
- Let the Dough Rise: Cover the pieces of dough with plastic wrap and let them rest for 45-60 minutes until doubled in size.
- Transfer the Dough & Score: Place a baguette board or a small cutting board right beside one of the baguettes. Gently pull up on the towel to flip the baguette over onto the board. Move the baguette over to the parchment lined pizza peel or unrimmed baking sheet. Gently flip the baguette onto the parchment paper, so that the seam side is down. Repeat this to move the second baguette over. Using a very sharp knife or a bread lame, cut 4-5 slashes in the top of the baguettes.The slashes should go diagonally and at a slight angle, going about 1/4" (.5 cm) deep.
- Bake: Fill a small bowl with about 2 cups of ice cubes. You want to work quickly and carefully when transferring the baguettes. Open the oven and gently slide the whole piece of parchment paper with the baguettes onto the preheated baking stone or sheet pan. Quickly pour the ice cubes into the preheated skillet and immediately shut the oven door. Turn the oven temperature down to 475F (246 C). Bake for about 25-40 minutes. It is traditional for baguettes to have a very dark crust. Check them at 25 minutes and decide if you would like a darker crust. I bake mine for 40 minutes for a dark, almost charred, crust.
- Cool: Allow the baguettes to cool before slicing. This will completely develop their flavor. Baguettes are best when eaten the same day. However, leftover baguette can be wrapped in foil and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.
- Using a scale to measure the ingredients is highly recommended for this recipe.
- Keep fingers damp when working with this dough to prevent it from sticking. It is a very wet dough and you do not want to add more flour into it.
- Active dry yeast can be used in place of the platinum or quick-rise yeast. If using active dry yeast, increase the amount of time between each stretch and fold to 45 minutes, for a total of 3 hours of fermentation.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 370