I am so particular about my grocery shopping that it is a bit ridiculous. If they don’t have the brand I want or the right size of something it completely throws me off and I seem to be incapable of making a decision of what alternative to get on such short notice. Last week I was at the store, and where were my usual organic eggs? I have no idea. But I literally stood in front of the refrigerator door for a full two minutes before I decided to get the only other brand of organic eggs available, which astounds me looking back because what other decision was I going to make? Yet I debated as if some other brand of organic eggs that didn’t cost five dollars was going to suddenly appear on the shelves.
There are so many times when I just mark whatever it is off the list and make a mental note to get it at another store, one that is closer to our apartment, and one that is also more expensive. The other week I was going to buy a baguette, but when I picked them up to decide which one to get I discovered that the plastic they were wrapped in all had a slit that was completely open at the bottom. And so I rolled my eyes and put them back and went to the other store, the one that is closer and more expensive, and proceeded to buy a baguette that I deemed as better even though it comes in a long baguette sized paper bag that does not close at all. How ridiculous am I?
But anyway, all that to say I don’t have to be particular about my bread when I make it at home. Making a homemade baguette has been on my list of kitchen things to conquer for awhile, but it seems like such a process, and how would I get the shape right, and why would I make this when I can buy it at the store in a paper bag like the French must do, right? But y’all. These were so good. And I can freeze them and bake them as needed so I may never buy a store-baked baguette again. Ok, that’s a lie because they are delicious too.
The process seems a bit intimidating, but once I understood the instructions (and figured out a few things I would do differently next time, i.e. let them rise in the exact position I plan on baking them) it was not at all as complicated as I imagined. And the reward is amazing. The crust is thick and flaky, a quality that I can do without in sandwich bread but on a baguette is heavenly. The middle is soft and chewy and has that distinct, pure homemade bread flavor. Normally Gerrit and I like to slice our baguettes and dip them in olive oil mixed with seasonings. But on this I preferred the purity of a just a bit of butter. The long rising time (and I think the rising of the overnight starter) gives the bread a depth of flavor that I don’t think any grocery-store bought baguette can rival. Even though I’m sure I will continue to buy them.
Homemade Classic Baguettes
adapted from King Arthur Flour
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Wait Time: 19 hours
Bake Time: 30 minutes
1/2 cup cool water
1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour)*
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (less during the summer, more during the winter)
3 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
1. Begin by making the starter the night before the day you plan on baking the bread. In a large bowl combine the yeast and water (if you’re using instant yeast, there’s no need to add it to water first). Add the 1 cup of flour, stirring together to form a very soft dough. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for about 14 hours (overnight). The next day it should have risen slightly and be bubbly.
2. To make the dough combine 1 teaspoon yeast with water in a small bowl, and let it sit for about five minutes for the yeast to activate (if you are using instant yeast, there is no need to combine it with water). Then add the yeast to the starter, and mix in the rest of the flour and the salt. When the ingredients are combined, dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is cohesive and smooth.
3. Place the dough in a large lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 3 hours. Deflate the dough after 1 hour, and once again after 2 hours.
4. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. On a lightly greased work surface, form each piece into a slightly flattened oval, about 7 inches long. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
5. Working with one oval of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise (keeping it long) and seal the edges together with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly (it will become longer…closer to the baguette length you are probably hoping for), fold it and seal it again. Place the log of dough so that it is seam side down, and roll it gently to round it out and lengthen it further.
6. Place the logs seem side down on a lightly greased or parchment lined sheet pan in whatever formation you plan on baking them. If you plan on freezing any of the baguettes, place them on a piece of lightly greased plastic wrap. Cover them (both ones you plan on baking and ones you plan on freezing) with a towel or lightly greased plastic wrap and let them rise for 1 1/2 hours. (At the end of this time, slit the ones you want to freeze in the way instructed below. Then you can wrap them in the plastic wrap, and then again in another sheet of plastic wrap or tinfoil and place them in the freezer. To bake them, follow the instructions below, but bake them for a few minutes longer).
7. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Using a sharp knife, cut 3 slits in the top of each baguette, each at about a 45 degree angle. Spritz the baguettes with water (this will help them develop a crackly crust).
9. Bake the baguettes for 25-30 minutes, until the are a deep golden brown color. Remove and allow them to cool.
* I used all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour that the recipe called for, and it worked perfectly fine.