How to Make French Baguette
With a uniquely crusty exterior and a fluffy, chewy inside, these homemade French baguettes taste bakery-worthy. Follow this in-depth step-by-step guide to make authentic French baguettes in the comfort of your own kitchen.
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Techniques Used: Pre-Ferment (Poolish), Stretch & Fold Method for Bread Making
I once heard a chef at a French bakery say that in France, an apprentice baker must make 10,000 baguettes before they can be considered competent at this skill. I say this not to scare you from making this iconic bread, but to help your perspective for how your first baguette attempt might look.
A classic baguette is extremely simple in regard to it’s ingredients. Water, flour, salt, and yeast are the only ingredients needed to make this delicious loaf of bread. However, there are two more “ingredients” that are heavily involved in the process: time and technique.
Learning how to make French baguette can seem intimidating, follow along as we master the art of this classic recipe. Put simply, baguette is a classic French loaf of bread characterized by its long, thin shape and crispy crust. In French, the word baguette means baton or stick, and is sometimes referred to as “French stick bread“.
Made with a lean dough (no fat present), a French baguette features a chewy texture inside the loaf. The process of making an authentic French baguette takes time as well as an understanding of bread making techniques. The best way to perfect the baguette craft? Practice!
What makes French baguette so special?
Shape: French baguettes have a unique shape uncommon to other types of bread. Each loaf is long and thin with slits cut into the dough.
Texture: Baguettes are ultra crunchy and crispy on the outside with a pillowy soft interior.
- The French baguette is a symbol of France and its identity! So much so that this artisan bread has been given World Heritage Status by UNESCO.
Tips and Techniques
- To fully understand the process of making French baguette, read through the entire tutorial and recipe at least twice before getting started. This ensures a complete understanding of the timing and steps involved.
- While most of the special equipment used to make bread dough is optional and can be mimicked with other kitchen items, I highly recommend using a kitchen scale. A scale is a small investment and by far the best way to accurately measure ingredients for bread dough.
- Because of the long fermentation period, the water used in this recipe is slightly cooler (90°F/ 32°C) than in most bread recipes.
- French baguette dough is a very wet dough. Do not add more flour than the recipe calls for. 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, this dough ferments for a long period of time with several brief stretch and folds throughout.
How to Make French Baguette
There are many ways to approach making French baguette. The technique we are using today produces artisan loaves that have a thin, crispy crust with characteristic large holes in the chewy center.
Note: I prefer to use instant yeast (also known as quick-rise or rapid rise yeast) for my baguettes because it increases oven spring and creates a beautiful texture. However, you can also use active dry yeast with a longer fermentation period – see recipe notes.
Mix the Poolish
Most French baguette recipes begin with a baguette starter, also known as a pre-ferment. To accomplish this, some of the water, some of the flour, and a little bit of 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. Mix the poolish together at least 6 hours before (and up to 10 hours before) making the dough. I recommend doing this step the night before making the bread.
Mix the Dough
After the poolish has fermented, combine it with the rest of the dough ingredients. A baguette is a lean dough so it only contains 4 ingredients: water, flour, yeast, and salt.
Start by stirring all of your ingredients together. Once it becomes difficult to stir, go in with a clean hand and start squeezing and massaging the dough all over until all of the flour is hydrated. It will seem like there isn’t enough water at first, but be patient – the dough will come together. Do not add more flour or water. At this point, the dough will look shaggy – do not knead it after all of the flour is hydrated.
The Stretch & Fold
Baguette dough is a very wet (high hydration) dough. Because of this, we do not knead the dough (as we do with many other bread doughs). Instead, the dough slowly ferments with a series of brief stretch and folds.
The stretch and fold technique serves three purposes: re-distributes 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 total, with 3 rounds of brief stretch and folds every 30 minutes. To stretch and fold the dough, lightly dampen your fingers (to avoid dough sticking to them) and pull up on the side of the dough and fold it back down on itself. Turn the bowl 90° 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.
Prepare the Oven
For baguettes, you’ll need a surface to bake the loaves on (a baking stone or baking steel) as well as a surface to create steam. If you do not have a baking stone or baking steel, use a sheet pan turned upside down. Position the baking surface on the middle rack of your oven.
To create steam in the oven, preheat a cast iron pan, roasting pan, or other oven-proof skillet on the very bottom rack. The skillet should be so hot that when you throw ice cubes into it, they immediately start evaporating and create steam. Steam helps with oven spring and the texture of the bread.
Preheat the oven (with the baking surface and skillet inside) for at least 30 minutes before baking so that every part of it is extremely hot.
Pre-Shape and Rest the Dough
After the dough has fermented, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Next, pre-shape the dough. Pre-shaping the dough starts creating tension in the dough so that it rises up instead of spreading out while it bakes.
To pre-shape the dough (working one half of dough at a time), pat the dough into a rectangle and pull out on the short sides. Bring the short sides into the center and press with your fingertips 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 each log of dough into 14 inch (35 cm) long loaves. Transfer the shaped loaves, seam side down, to a lightly floured lint-free cloth or baker’s couche to rest. Push the cloth up and 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, flat un-rimmed 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. Flip the baguette onto the board by pulling up on the towel and flipping it back onto the parchment paper.
Using a sharp knife or a bread lame (a bread lame is a razor blade on the end of a stick), score the top of the baguettes. The cuts should be going vertical at a slight angle down the baguette about ¼ inch (0.5 cm) deep.
Bake the Baguettes
Fill a bowl with about 2 cups 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 hollow when tapped.
Perfecting the art of making artisan homemade French baguettes takes practice. But even imperfect baguettes taste incredible and each attempt unveils a deeper understanding of the process.
- The Professional Pastry Chef
- Flour, Salt, Water, Yeast
- On Food and Cooking
- How to Make Baguette (tutorial from Breadtopia)
Can I use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour?
All-purpose flour can technically be used for baguettes, creating a soft, airy crumb. However, for a traditional chewy and crusty baguette, use bread flour. Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour which adds chewiness. The French typically use flour with a protein content similar to bread flour (or even a little higher).
What can I do with stale baguette?
Homemade baguettes are best eaten the day they are baked. After that, they become hard and stale.
To refresh a stale baguette, run water over the bottom of the bread and place it directly into a 400°F/ 205°C oven for about 10 minutes. Adding moisture directly to the loaf creates steam in the oven and softens the bread while also crisping the crust.
An alternate to refreshing stale baguette is to use the bread in a new recipe. Slice the stale bread into cubes and use the cubes to make panzanella (chopped salad made with stale bread), Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing, or homemade croutons!
How to store French Baguette
Room temperature: Baguettes are best eaten on the same day they are baked. If you do have leftover baguette, wrap it tightly in foil and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Freezer: Let the baked baguette cool completely, then place in a zipper freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Cut the loaf if necessary to fit in the bag. To refresh the frozen loaf, wrap in aluminum foil and place into the oven at 400°F / 205°C for 6 – 8 minutes until warm.
MORE RECIPES FROM BAKER BETTIE!
If you enjoyed this tutorial, you might like to try these other delicious bread recipes.
For the Poolish
- 90 grams (¾ cup) bread flour
- 90 grams (90 milliliters) filtered water, slightly warm (about 90°F/ 32°C)
- ¼ teaspoon instant or quick-rise yeast *see note below
For the Final Dough
- 270 grams (2 ¼ cups) bread flour
- 163 grams (163 milliliters) filtered water, slightly warm (about 90°F/ 32°C)
- ¼ teaspoon instant or quick-rise yeast *see note below
- 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- Make the Poolish: The night before making the baguettes or at least 6 hours before, make the poolish. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread flour (90 grams/ ¾ cup), warm water (90 grams/ 90 milliliters), and instant yeast (¼ teaspoon). Stir the mixture until all the flour is absorbed.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a shower cap (my preference) 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 this includes the bread flour (270 grams/ 2 ¼ cups), warm water (163 grams/ 163 milliliters), instant yeast (¼ teaspoon), and salt (1 ¼ teaspoons).
- Stir until well combined. It may appear as if there is not enough liquid but as you work it together it will become a sticky dough. Use your hands to pinch the dough together to fully incorporate all of 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, 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° 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, prepare your pans and your oven. Position an oven rack in the very bottom position and another rack in the middle position. Place a cast-iron skillet or another heatproof skillet on the bottom rack. Place a baking stone, baking steel, or a sheet pan turned upside down on the middle rack. Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C). The oven and pans need to be heating for at least one hour before the bread goes into the oven. Lightly flour a lint-free kitchen towel or baker's couche. This will hold your shaped dough as it rises. Additionally, line a pizza peel or a flat (unrimmed) baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
- Pre-Shape & Rest the Dough: Weigh the dough and divide it in two equal pieces with a bench knife (do not tear it). Each piece will be about 305 grams. You can eyeball this if you do not have a scale. On a very lightly floured surface, press one piece of dough 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 or kitchen towel 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 ½ inch (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 countertop, working it into a long thin snake shape. Try to keep the dough as even as possible and work it into about a 14 inch (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 or kitchen towel let them rest for 45-60 minutes until doubled in size.
- Transfer the Dough & Score: Place a baguette board or a 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 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 ¼ inch (0.5 cm) deep.
- Bake: Fill a bowl with about 2 cups of ice cubes. Open the oven and carefully 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 on the bottom rack and immediately shut the oven door. Turn the oven temperature down to 475°F (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. Bake 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 eaten on the same day.
- *If using active dry yeast in place of the instant or quick-rise yeast, double the amount listed. Also increase the amount of time between each stretch and fold to 45 minutes, for a total of 3 hours of fermentation.
- 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.
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