The baguette. The illustrious baguette with which we so strongly connect to French culture and cuisine. A crusty baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine. A perfect meal. To make baguettes at home is a truly special endeavor. Once you’ve mastered it, you’re sure to enjoy a perfect meal.
Shaping a baguette is not difficult, but it does take practice. With a little patience, some technique, and a gentle hand.
The final shape and length of your baguette rely on how much dough you use. Pre-shaping the baguette is also important. You can either go with a ball (or boule) shape or a log (cylinder or tubular) shape. Regardless of the pre-shape you choose or the amount of dough you use, the eventual shape will be long and thin using a combination of rolling and folding of dough.
As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. It becomes easier and the results come out much more consistent. This doesn’t negate experience acquired from other types of bread making, the skills learned in one are often transferable to another. Still, the baguette has a unique shape that forces you to learn the baguette way of shaping bread.
Pre-Shaping is Important
You’ve completed the bulk proofing (or first fermentation) stage of your baguette dough, and you’ve portioned out the number of loaves you want to make. You’re ready to pre-shape your dough.
Pre-shaping is almost like coaxing your dough into the desired shape. The better your pre-shape, the better your final shape.
There are two forms of pre-shaping when it comes to the baguette. You can either go with a ball (or boule) shape or a log (cylinder or tubular) shape. Practice and personal preference will determine which method you go for.
Pat the dough down flat, gently de-gassing any air bubbles out. With your hands placed on either side of the dough, fold both sides simultaneously, toward the middle. Pinch to seal the seam. Then, from the top, roll the dough down, anywhere from a quarter to a third of the way down. Roll down one or two more times to complete the log shape. Set aside to rest for about 60 minutes.
Using the same starting point as above, you’ll want to remove any excess gas from your dough and flatten it out. Starting with the edge furthest from you, bring it in toward the center. Quarter turn and repeat three more times. Pinch the seams closed, and flip over seam-side down. Place your hands on either side of the ball, and with one hand push the ball toward you, and with the other hand gently guide it. Push and drag back up, and repeat thereby tightening the tension of the ball.
Regardless of the pre-shape, you choose to go with, you’ll cover the dough with a tea towel and allow for a 30-minute resting period.
Once the dough has rested, you can begin your final shape.
To form, first flatten the dough to remove any excess gas or bigger bubbles. Once flattened, fold from the top, along the longer edge in toward the middle, and gently, but firmly press down on the dough with the bottom of the palm of your hand all the way closing the seam. Turn, and do the same on the other side.
Do this again, using your thumb to turn the dough in toward the middle again and your palm to follow along and seal the dough. Turn and repeat on the other side.
Place seam side down and start to gently roll it from the center out to elongate the dough. Here you can either taper the ends by rolling toward a point, or keep them more squared and stay away from handling the ends.
It’s ok to roll it out longer than you think you should. In fact, you probably should, as this allows for shrinkage.
Once you’ve shaped your dough, it needs to be proofed. To maintain its shape you can use a baguette couche, a baguette pan, or a make-shift proofing pan, detailed below.
|Baguette Couche||Made from 100% flax linen, it is light, breathable, and pliable, allowing you to place your dough between folds for multiple loaves while supporting a sort of rigidity to maintain the shape of the baguette.|
|Baguette Pan||Made either from metal or ceramic, it is already pre-shaped to hold a baguette. The metal ones often come with small holes which allow for air circulation, as well as being non-stick. The baguette is ultimately baked in the baguette pan, making it a time-saver in addition to less overall cleanup.|
|DIY Option||In a pinch, you can use a combination of parchment paper and a tea towel on a baking sheet. Lay the towel down and place the parchment paper above. Flour and place your first loaf in, and in the same manner, you use a baguette couche, fold the towel and paper upward, forming a small wall and place the next loaf down. The bonus here – you can slide the towel out from underneath before baking, and that’s it. It’s ready to go into the oven.|
After placing it in your choice of proofing holder, you’ll want to proof it anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the type of dough you’ve chosen to make. If proofing for the long stretch, you’ll want to preheat your oven toward the end to anywhere from 450 – 500°F (230-260°C).
If you’re using a baking stone, you can place it on the middle rack. If you’re using a baking sheet, place it on the bottom rack. Adding steam to the process, either by boiling about a cup or slightly more of water or adding some ice cubes on a bottom tray, will ensure excellent color, crust, and oven spring.
When baking at a higher temperature, you want to turn it down to 450°F(230°C) mid-way to avoid burning. Give your loaves 3 to 5 scores down the length, and pop’em into the oven.
In less than an hour, you’re going to have piping hot, homemade baguettes. A little patience is required here, you don’t want to burn your tongue. Once it’s cooled, enjoy!
Perhaps your first time, having read how to do it here, they’ll look amazing…Perhaps not. With practice, however, you’re sure to master the technique and start churning out authentic-looking baguettes.