I love the simplicity of bread. As in the ingredients. The process, not so much! (Although, the more I make bread the simpler the process gets, which is encouraging!)
Baguettes are a great example of the simplicity of bread. This was surprising to me as I always thought they would be very difficult to make. But these baguettes are great because:
- they have just four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.
- the process is relatively simple, in that it follows roughly the same pattern as regular bread making.
There are many factors that affect the taste, crustiness, and shape of the baguette, which are definitely worth exploring, but to start off with and make passable first attempt baguettes, I think simplicity is key.
For inspiration I looked to, of course, the internet where I found lots of good advice and recipes, some simple and some slightly more complicated (like this one). I also looked at the advice and recipes in the amazing, mammoth tome that is America’s Test Kitchen Complete TV Show Cookbook. When I get more equipment (and more skills!) I shall most definitely try their recipe.
In the end, the recipe in Paul Hollywood’s Bread book has worked out the best for me, with a few tiny tweaks. His recipe is here, although the method is simpler in his book than on the internet.
All you need is:
- 500g bread flour
- 10g dry fast acting yeast
- 10g salt
- 350ml filtered water
Here are some of my top tips for making simple baguettes:
1. Allow for the time it takes to make bread.
As with most bread making, you have to try to be patient. The rise time is quite long (2 hours, and then 1). One mistake I made (and have made in the past, so really I should know by now), is that I started making the bread in the late afternoon. With all the rising, baking, cooling, cleaning up and putting away, that makes for a late night.
So morning time is a better time for bread making. Although if you are a night owl, then late night baking won’t be a problem!
2. Knead, Knead, Knead!
The dough needs a lot of kneading. By the end it needs to be quite elastic and stretchy. For this you do really need a mixer with a dough hook, because it is a wet dough so it’s quite hard to handle. I find that the mixer will always mix it more systematically and with more power than I can. I don’t think it’s impossible to knead by hand, so you could always have a go, just be prepared for stickiness and a lot of kneading!
Kneading is important before the first rise and folding is important after it. After the bread has had the first rise, and you are ‘knocking it back’, folding the dough from each side across to it’s opposite side is better than kneading it vigorously so that not all of the air escapes and the bread can have the characteristic holes throughout the loaf.
3. Use a bench scraper.
Because the dough is a wet dough, it does stick to the kitchen surface, even if you dust it with flour. So a bench scraper is really helpful when you need to gather it together to move it or to shape it. If you don’t have a bench scraper, you could use a metal spatula.
There are other pieces of equipment to help with baguette making. A linen cloth called a couche can be used to shape the dough. There is also a sharp razor-like tool called a lame that can help make the slashes on the top of the bread. I don’t have these (yet!) but I don’t think they are essential for making baguettes, especially if you are just starting.
4. Shaping it is important
The shape of a baguette is one of the things that makes it distinctive. There are baking trays with baguette shaped depressions in them that help keep the bread in shape, but it is possible to get a baguette shape without them.
To shape it, make it into a rectangle shape, fold the long edges into the middle and tuck the side edges in. Then gently roll it. I found it helpful to use the bench scraper when folding the long edges over. The dough sticks to the surface and I ended up stretching the dough as I tried to pick it up. So I slotted the bench scraper under the dough and used that to get a clean lift and place it down into the middle of the dough.
5. Slash the top of the dough before putting it in the oven
Slashing the dough opens it up and allows steam to get inside, as well as giving the baguette another of it’s characteristic trademarks. I found this hard because at first, I was being too gentle and too slow so the bread was sticking to the knife and the cut was not deep enough. I learned to use a really sharp knife and make a quick firm slash in the dough and it worked out much better.
Also putting a tin of water in the bottom of the oven is helpful with this bread as it creates the steam to help the bread bake.
Still to master…
These baguettes taste great and are so lovely with stews, for sandwiches or with some garlic butter spread over them. There are some things I would like to master, though.
- The crust: The bread was not very crispy on the outside which I think is a must for a baguette so I need to master this! There are lots of ways to increase crustiness such as the ingredients used, the amount of surface area the dough has and the baking tray you use. I came across this great article here, which had a lot of good advice.
- The shape: Often the baguettes turn out wider than I imagine, so I might try making smaller baguettes to see if I can shape them better. Also may invest in a couche…!