When we set out to create a simple baguette recipe that could be prepared in a home kitchen, the test kitchen was divided. Everyone agreed that it should have a deep golden crust and an open, airy texture. Where we parted ways was on the question of whether you could actually create an outstanding baguette at home in a regular oven. Some were skeptical, but we were determined.
During the development process, we did find that there were just some things that couldn’t be simplified. First, to get the right flavor we needed to use a sponge. This mixture of flour, water, and yeast develops a full range of unique flavors that improves the longer it sits. We also had to put in some work to find the best oven temperature. Unlike many other rustic breads, baguettes cannot be baked in a super-hot oven, or else they form a crust before fully expanding. Putting baguettes in a 500-degree oven and then immediately lowering the oven to 425 degrees gave us a perfectly crisp crust and moist crumb—and won over the skeptics.
STEP #1 Create Sponge
Create a sponge—a small mixture of flour, water, and yeast—that lends the bread its mildly sour and nutty flavors.
STEP #2 Allow Sponge to Rise
The key to using our sponge is to let it rise for about 2 hours then wait for it to fall (about 4 hours) before using.
STEP #3 Wait for Sponge to Fall
The fall indicates that the yeast is active and ready to go. Once the sponge has fallen, it can be held for up to 24 hours at room temperature before using.
STEP #4 Mix Dough
Combine the flour, yeast, and water in a stand mixer until the dough comes together, then let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
STEP #5 Add More Flour (or Don’t)
If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl after several minutes of kneading, it is too wet and you need to add more flour. With the mixer running, add the flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, allowing 30 to 60 seconds between additions. Dough with the right ratio of water to flour should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom.
STEP #6 Start Turning
After the dough has risen for about an hour, it’s time to start turning it. Slide a plastic bench scraper or rubber spatula under one side of the dough; gently lift and fold a third of the dough toward the center.
STEP #7 Turn on the Other Side
Repeat the previous step with the opposite side of the dough.
STEP #8 Fold into a Rough Square
Finally, fold the dough in half, perpendicular to the first folds. The dough shape should be a rough square. Cover, let rise for 30 minutes, then repeat the turning process. Cover and rise about 30 minutes longer, until dough has doubled in size.
STEP #9 Form into Rectangle
Working with one piece of dough at a time, gently pat the dough into a rough 8 by 6-inch rectangle, with the long edge towards you.
STEP #10 Fold Bottom into Center
Gently fold the bottom third of the dough up to the center and press to seal.
STEP #11 Fold and Seal
Gently fold the bottom of the dough up to the top and press to seal.
STEP #12 Create a Crease
Using the side of your floured hand, create a large crease down the middle of the dough.
STEP #13 Pinch Top and Bottom Together
Working from one end of the loaf to the other, pinch the top and bottom of the dough together securely.
STEP #14 Roll and Stretch
Gently roll the baguette back and forth to stretch it into an even 15-inch-long baguette, about 2½ inches wide. Roll the loaf seam side down and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
STEP #15 Slash the Top
Cut four ½–inch-deep slashes along the width of the dough. This creates an escape route for the steam trapped inside the bread as it bakes.
Find this and other great recipes in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.