It’s taken me a while to make baguettes reliably, and to work out just how many to bake in one go, and how big they should be. These instructions are the result of that, but with a ‘your mileage may vary’ caveat: please don’t worry or be upset if the baguettes don’t come out as you’d hoped the first few times you make them. I’m here to help – just comment or message if you have any questions.
I make six c. footlong baguettes in one go, parbaking them and freezing them. This sees us through a week of lunches, and adds a nice rhythm to the baking. They freeze and finish-baking really nicely. Baking baguettes is a two-day process – like with the Everyday Bread you have to start the day before you want to bake, and while they’re more involved than that process they also don’t take massive amounts of your time – most of the recipe time is spent waiting for them to rise. There are more steps, though, and this means it takes longer to feel like you really know how to make these, and to do so without thinking about it or looking things up. But persevere – that moment will come! I’ve found that the liveliness of my sourdough starter makes a big different to how well the baguettes will rise – but even if they’re less bouncy than I’d hoped they still taste great. And each batch comes out slightly differently – I blame the starter and our slightly varying kitchen temperatures for this.
For the poolish:
- 100g plain flour
- 1.5 teaspoons yeast
- 100g lukewarm water
For the actual dough:
- 300g plain flour
- 300g strong white flour (or wholemeal, if you prefer that)
- 1.5 teaspoons yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 220g sourdough starter
- 250g lukewarm water
- the poolish
The evening before you want to bake baguette, make the poolish: mix the flour, yeast and water in a bowl with a fork, and cover the bowl with a moist tea towel overnight.
The next day, mix together all ingredients. I do them in the order listed above – just add them to a big bowl one by one, and stir with a fork. Once you have combined the ingredients it’s time to knead them – you can either do this in a standmixer (5 mins on high) or by hand (15 mins gentle kneading – no need to fold and stretch or do anything fancy, just massage the dough with your hands as though you’re playing with sand). Cover your bowl with a moist tea towel and leave it to rise for about 3 hours.
[nb: I leave mine to rise next to the Aga at about 20C. If your kitchen is cooler you may need to extend your rising time, if it is warmer you may need to shorten it. See where 3 hours gets you.]
Once your dough is risen, take it out of your bowl and place it on a floured work surface. Divide it into 6 parts – I do this with a kitchen knife. Stretch and fold each part until it resembles a tiny package. You do this by flattening the dough and stretching it about a foot or so sideways – pull it with both hands – and then folding the long bits into the middle. Then you stretch top and bottom, and fold them in again. Back to the sides, fold in the middle. Top and bottom, fold in the middle. Each time you do this the folds get tighter, and after 5 or 6 stretches you should have a smallish parcel. Roll this into a baguette – the length depends on the size of your baking tray! Mine end up about a foot long. You can shape them by loosely shoogling the dough – hold both ends and jiggle them, and it’ll start to lengthen. Place your baguettes onto a floured tray and leave for another 2 hours to rise. Preheat your oven to 220C.
[nb: I bake my baguettes in silicone baguette forms, but you don’t need these – I only bought them when I was sure I’d be baking these every week. Lots of recipes advise you to place your baguettes on floured tea towels to rise, but I find that really faffy, and really hard to get them off again. I prefer to just rise them on the baking tray I’m going to bake them on (if I’m not going to use the silicone forms), with enough space between them so they don’t rise into one another.]
Score marks into the top of each baguette with a kitchen knife. You can cut really deep, they won’t mind that. Bake at about 220C for 15-20 minutes if you are parbaking them to freeze them, or 30-40 minutes if you are going to bake them fully. I sometimes add a baking dish of water in the oven – it changes the crust – but most of the time I don’t bother as I enjoy the crust that comes out without it. This is something where you’ll need to experiment which taste you prefer.