Phaidon’s Upskill Sessions - How to Make a French Baguette
Self-isolation isn’t an end to self-improvement. Use this time to master those skills normal life got in the way of
So, how is all this going for you? Like many of us, you may find yourself in the house with a little too much time on your hands. Still, rather than dwell too much on the situation, why not take the opportunity too, for a little culinary self-improvement?
We’re pulling together edited extracts from some of our most useful, authoritative cookbooks, to offer you a guide to making some fine gastronomic basics which may have evaded you up until now. Here’s the recipe for a classic French baguette, courtesy of the pièce de résistance of Francophile bakery books, The Larousse Book of Bread.
Here’s what you need: 500g (4 cups) of all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting; 325g (scant 1 1/3 cups) of water at 68 degrees F (20 degrees C); 100g (scant ½ cup) liquid sourdough starter (or 25g [3 tablespoons] of dry sourdough starter); 3 g (1 teaspoon) of fresh baker’s yeast, crumbled; 10g (2 teaspoons) of salt.
Put the flour on a work surface or in a mixing bowl and make a large well in the center. Pour in two-thirds of the water and mix until all the flour has been incorporated. Leave this to rest for one hour under a damp cloth, then incorporate the rest of the water, the starter, fresh yeast, and salt. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Shape into a ball and cover with a damp cloth. Let it rise for ninety minutes. It will have increased in volume by the end of the rising time.
Dust the work surface. Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Fold each piece over on itself, pulling gently to stretch it into a longish log. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, use the palm of your hand to flatten it gently. With the long side facing you, fold in a third towards the center and press along the edge with your fingertips. Swivel the dough 180 degrees. Fold in the other long edge so that it overlaps in the center and press with the heel of your hand. Fold one half on top of the other, and seal the edge together with the heel of your hand.
With lightly floured hands, roll the baguette out to 21 inches (55cm) long, then pinch each end into a point. Shape the other two baguettes the same way.
Carefully lift the baguettes onto a slightly floured baker’s cloth, seams underneath. Separate them by making folds in the cloth. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to proof for one hour 40 minutes, by which time the baguettes will have increased in volume.
Place a baking sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Place the baguettes, seam down, on another baking sheet lined with parchment (baking) paper. Dust with flour and make four evenly spaced oblique slashes along the length of each baguette. Just before putting the baguettes in the oven, pour 50g (¼ cup) of water onto the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove and leave to cool on a wire rack.
For a more detailed version of this recipe, as well as much more, consider getting hold of a copy of The Larousse Book of Bread; it is an indispensable resource for both beginner and professional bakers and an essential addition to any cookery library.