French Baguettes

This light, airy baguette recipe has a wonderful crisp, golden crust. To get the right result, you need a relatively wet dough, which is why I recommend using a mixer.


MAKES 4 OR 5


INGREDIENTS

500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting

10g salt

7g instant yeast

350ml tepid water

Olive oil for kneading and oiling

METHOD

Lightly oil a 2–3-litre square plastic container. 

(It is important to use a square tub as it helps shape the dough.)

Put the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, keeping the yeast away from the salt as it will damage its ability to ferment. Add three-quarters of the water and begin mixing on a slow speed. As the dough starts to come together, slowly add the remaining water, then continue to mix on a medium speed for 5–7 minutes, until you have a glossy, elastic dough.

Tip the dough into the prepared tub. Cover with a tea towel and leave for about 1 hour until at least doubled in size. Line two ordinary baking trays with baking parchment or silicone matt.

Coat the work surface with a little olive oil, then carefully tip the dough onto it. Handle it gently so you keep as much air in the dough as possible. This helps to create the irregular, airy texture of a really good baguette. The dough will be wet to the touch but still aerated.

Divide the dough into four or five pieces. Shape each piece into a sausage shape by flattening the dough out slightly and folding the sides in to the middle. The top should be smooth. Now, beginning in the middle, roll each sausage with your hands. Don’t force it out by pressing heavily. Concentrate on the backwards and forwards movement and gently use the weight of your arms to roll out the dough to the length of your baking trays.

Place two or three baguettes on each tray. Cover each tray loosely with cling film and leave to prove for about 1 hour, until the dough has at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Towards the end of the proving period, preheat your oven to 220ºC/475ºF/gas mark 9 and put a roasting tray in the bottom to heat up.

When your baguettes are risen and light, dust them lightly with flour. Then slash each one three times on the diagonal along its length, using a razor blade or very sharp knife. Fill the roasting tray with hot water to create steam and put the bread into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the baguettes are golden brown and have a slight sheen. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

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