I have this fantasy in which I live in Paris. I wake up at 10am every day, then proceed to get a milky cup of cafe au lait and a chocolate croissant, then take a leisurely walk along the Seine. When I'm feeling peckish again, I grab a baguette and a hunk of cheese and sit for a long lunch on a sunny patch of grass on the Ile St. Louis. I lounge there, eating bread and cheese and reading Hemingway. I have red wine too. There's an accordion playing in the background and I'm wearing stripes. I sit there with my bread, my book, and my Bordeaux until one of them runs out, then I take a deep breath, thank my lucky stars, and go along my merry way. It's a good life I have in Paris.
It's a good life I have here, too, though. Sure, most days I have to get up earlier, and while we do have a river, there are no islands in it. Even so, I get to live in another one of my favorite cities in the world and I can make baguettes at home, anytime I want. So, I'm not complaining.
Homemade baguettes. This was by far my favorite stand mixer adventure and the one that I am most proud of. I can't tell you how satisfying it was to start a project on a Saturday morning with serious amounts of trepidation and end Sunday night with my entire building smelling like a French bakery and four golden loaves to show for my hard work.
Let's make baguettes!
The day before you want fresh baguettes (which in theory was, like, yesterday), begin the process. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add all of your ingredients: instant yeast, bread flour, salt, and warm water.
Mix with the paddle attachment until a shaggy dough is formed, much like this:
Attach the dough hook and mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and tacky but not too sticky.
Remove dough from stand mixer and add to a lightly oiled bowl. Let rise in the fridge for up to four days and at the very least overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator at least two hours prior to baking and let it come to room temperature. It should have doubled in size overnight. Gently transfer it to a lightly floured work space, being careful to release as little gas as possible.
Divide dough into four equal parts. I keep it in a circular shape and cut it vertically then horizontally to ensure I'm getting equally sized pieces. Once the dough is divided, begin shaping the baguettes.
Roll one piece of dough out until it is roughly a thick rectangle. Fold the bottom and top edges into the middle and press to seal. Then fold the dough on top of itself again and seal the edges well. Wet your hands slightly and starting from the middle and working your way out, gently roll the dough so it becomes elongated. Place seam side down on a baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining pieces of dough (or let them hang out in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and have fresh bread all week!)
Let the formed baguettes proof (rise) for one and a half hours more. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a casserole pan on the bottom rack of the oven, below where the baguettes will be baked. Just prior to baking, take a sharp knife and score the tops of the baguettes, but don't go too deep or they'll break apart when you transfer them later.
When oven is preheated, transfer loaves to the top rack of the oven and add one cup of hot water to the pan underneath the baguettes. This creates steam while baking and gives baguettes their golden, crusty exterior.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the pan and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the baguettes are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan to stop the cooking and let cool on a wire rack, or in my case, by the window, until ready to serve.
This two-day undertaking was a crash course in bread baking if there ever was one. I figured if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it. As I mentioned before, even if these had been a disaster, the smell alone was worth it. The smell of baking bread is one of life's great pleasures, isn't it?
You should wait until the baguettes have cooled because they slice much neater that way and that's what the recipe says to do. However, if you're at all like me and find yourself doing any or all of the following: wearing new clothes the day you buy them; looking to the end of the chapter as your reading a book to see how long it is; or always, always looking when someone says "don't look!", you will not wait. You will eat just a corner of one of these hot, soft, luxurious creations right away and burn your hand in the process.
As far as taste goes, these were baguettes! That's the best thing I can say about them; they were crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, and were perfect with salted butter and jam or, my personal favorite, any type of cheese, ever.
You've all heard me go on and on and on about my stand mixer. I have completely fallen head over heals for that appliance and how easy it makes my life. So far the dough hook has been my best friend and I have made pretzels, bagels, hamburger buns, and, of course, my tour de force, these baguettes. If you have a stand mixer, or have the space, the strength, and the patience to knead by hand, you should try these.
Sitting in the sun drinking wine and eating bread and cheese in Paris sounds wonderful, but making these at home is equally as great.
Here's the recipe!
Homemade Baguettes (From Not Without Salt)
- 5 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoon (1 package) instant yeast
- 2 cups warm water
- Prep Day: Combine all ingredients in bowl of mixer, set with paddle attachment, and mix on lowest speed for 1 minute until well blended and smooth. Dough should form a coarse, shaggy ball. Switch to dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. Dough should be smooth and tacky but not sticky. Transfer to a large clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and immediately refrigerate overnight or up to 4 days.
- Baking Day: Remove dough from refrigerator 2 hours prior to baking. Gently transfer to lightly floured work surface, being careful to release as little gas as possible. Divide dough into four equal portions. You can also remove just enough dough to make one baguette and have fresh bread for the rest of the week!
- To form the baguettes pat each piece of dough into a thick rectangle. Fold the top side to the middle and press to seal. Fold the bottom side up to the middle and again, press to seal. Fold the top over onto itself and form a new seal on the bottom. With lightly floured hands, gently rock hands back and forth starting at the middle and working your way out, until the loaf is elongated and slightly tapered at the end. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let proof for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add a casserole dish to the bottom oven rack. Just before baking, score the baguettes with a sharp serrated knife or razor. Ensure that the cut goes no further than 1/4 an inch into the loaf. When ready, add baguettes to oven and pour one cup of hot water into the casserole dish on the lower rack. This serves as a steam pan and gives the baguettes their golden, crusty exterior. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 15-20 more minutes, until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least an hour. Serve with butter, cheese, or as the star of a sandwich.