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May 7, 2009 07:19 AM

Best Baguette?

I'm armed with Julia Child's recipe and a forecast for a rainy weekend. Any recipes or advice for my first attempt at french bread?

Your favorite uses for a fresh-baked baguette are welcome too.


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  1. I hope you get some guidance here. I've never baked bread in my life and have been toying with the idea. If I did it, I would want a baguette also. To me, bread is all about the crust!

    6 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Curious to hear what others have to say, but I would put baguette at the end of the list for a novice baker. Turning out a decent one is not hard, but a perfectly authentic one with a lovely shape, shattering crust, deep flavour, and big air cells is tricky. In particular, working with a very slack dough and retaining the air in it takes some practice.

      I would work at mastering easier breads first, myself, or setting your standards on the low side and being very patient.

      What do others think?

      1. re: c oliver

        I have tried, somewhat success, but admit. It is easier to buy. Great flavor but with me I don't use air a lot so humidity does become a problem. It was ok, and I tried and definitely edible. But I make my loafs in the bread maker all the time which it a bit more controlled and on those days I can keep the air on. Dough not in the bread maker I have problems with due to the humidity, even the bread maker is hard sometimes but a bit easier.

        Winter I make more homemade breads. Wheat bread mixes and white mixes and rye are much easier than my own recipes in the bread maker and I have to remember to have the air on that day

        1. re: kchurchill5

          Wish I lived where you are if really good baguettes are easy to buy there! I'm in central NJ and have not been able to buy a decent, authentic baguette in 15 years, probably even longer. Forget the supermarket in-store-bakery ones...even the "artisan" ones they sell which come in parbaked from out of town bakeries just don't have the right texture. If anyone here knows a good bakery in NJ with authentic baguettes, please let me know!!
          How I miss those mom and pop bakeries that were so plentiful 40 years ago...

          1. re: The Professor

            There is a couple of good small places that sell them, and the one local market is good. My farmers market also sells them and they are really descent for the price. I usually by two every Sat am, cut in 1/3's and freeze. That way I can take a baggie out and have 3-4 slices for me that day and the next and it won't go bad

            1. re: The Professor

              If you are near Crawford NJ I'd suggest that you try the baguette and sourdough at Breadsmith. http://www.breadsmith.com/

              1. re: The Professor

                I haven't had their baguettes in several years, but Witherspoon Bread Company in Princeton (at least used to) have good baguettes.

          2. Favorite uses?
            The perfect accompaniment to a piece of Cowgirl Creamery Mt.Tam with some organic fig preserves.
            Add a nice Pinot Noir and some sliced meat from Salumi and you have the perfect excuse to bake baguettes.
            The bags of King Arthur French Flour have a nice recipe and they have another on their web site.


            44 Replies
            1. re: Fritter

              What you described is, to me, the perfect meal - any time of day. I could care less about bread *on the side* of your traditional meat and two sides. But a nice cheese, a little meat, a little butter, some wine. Ooh la la. Now to see if I can find the KA flour.

              1. re: c oliver

                You can order online. The shipping is rather high if you only order one bag of flour, but gets progressively less expensive if you order more. King Arthur is also doing some specials this week: 20% off more than $50, 25% off more than $100 and 30% off more than $150.

                If you have been dying to buy things like english muffin rings, high quality vanilla or bowls etc.... not a bad opportunity. Around here, KA is in all supermarkets, and I still often order from them since I know that it was ground recently.

              2. re: Fritter

                Can't go wrong there! I'm planning to go shopping for the meats, cheeses, butter and jams while I wait for dough to rise. My grandmother (who is french and a wonderful cook) has ordered me to make a sandwich with the radishes from my garden, french butter, a pinch of salt, and of course the baguette. I've never had a radish-butter sandwich before, but she's the authority.

                1. re: agoldman

                  I had some tiny little radishes and had that with the bread and butter. Mmmm.

                  1. re: Fritter

                    Bought the flour today, but the bags didn't have a baguette recipe. I got this one from their website (wow, they have a lot, don't they?) Does this sound like what I want to start with?

                    Thanks, Fritter et al.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      This recipe looks pretty good. The hydration is a little low, but that will make it easier to handle. Be forewarned, this makes a lot of bread and it doesn't keep. I often divide the starter [by weight] and put half in the refrigerator where it grows more slowly and then make bread on two consecutive days. The other option is to bake all of the bread and when cool, wrap the loaves you won't eat within 24 hours tightly in plastic and then place into a ziplock bag and freeze.

                      I have a bunch of bread doing a second rise now. Love the way the house smells as the bread bakes.

                      1. re: smtucker

                        I'm inordinately excited about the :) I've been *yeast-phobic* forever. So my first dough as for pasta which was hard and then not hard; getting better each time. This sounds pretty easy but I'm glad for all their detailed instructions and pictures and your support.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Another thing. The king arthur recipes assume table salt, so if you are using kosher increase the quantity by about 50%. Unsalted bread is a very flat flavor.

                          1. re: smtucker

                            I have both. Do you have a preference?

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I can't stand table salt. Tastes like metal to me, so I always use kosher in my bread.

                              1. re: smtucker

                                I've never figured out how to use anything other than table salt in little salt shakers for the table. Everything else is too big. Guess I could enlarge the holes. So a box of it last forever since that's all I use it for!

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  You could get a salt grinder if you want to have kosher salt at the table, but if you'd rather buy a canister of salt than a grinder (certainly cheaper), I use fine sea salt and find it works fine in a shaker and has a clean taste. I use it for the table and for cooking.

                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                    I use kosher for cooking and rarely does anyone add salt at my table, but I too use a fine sea salt, not sure of the brand but I had the option at a warehouse of buying 2 pepper shakers, the pepper shaker holes were a bit bigger, I use that and they work good. I sure they make them out their for a coarser salt, but never table salt in my house except for baking which is rare.

                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      Thanks for the sea salt tip. We're going to be in and out of NYC for a month soon. I'm making my chow shopping list!

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Tonight's Bread

                                        I overcompensated for the humidity, and didn't get the right oven spring with the baguette and the slashes are not perfect. One third of the dough was for the baguette, the rest I made into a boule for sandwiches.

                                        Dinner was the last container of Hazan Bolognese sauce from the freezer, over just enough pasta to show a little decorum, since I really just wanted the sauce on my bread.

                                        1. re: smtucker

                                          I believe that I too am down to my last pack of her sauce :( Decorum? Not when homemade bread and B sauce are around!!!

                                          Thanks for the photos. One last question? It says to leave the starter for 14 hours, I believe.. How much over that time could I safely go if at all?

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            If you need more than 14 hours, you might want to start the starter in the fridge to slow it down. Take out of fridge and then add an hour to get to room temperature and the rest of the rising. My recipe actually has me keep the starter in the fridge for the entire 14 hours. Slow rising will always give you more flavor, so I would recommend the slow method vs the over-proofing.

                                        2. re: c oliver

                                          I use sea salt as well. If you want a very fine sea salt the TJ's sea salt fits the bill and it's inexpensive.
                                          I order the baguette pans from KA on this last sale. They should be here this week.

                                          1. re: Fritter

                                            Are the pans just really for aesthetics? So the bread has the traditional shape? Should I just make sure the loaves are far enough apart that they don't "bleed" into each other?

                                            Made my starter last night and will make the dough itself about lunch time. Pretty exciting :)

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              "Are the pans just really for aesthetics? "

                                              Because I don't have them yet I would rather wait until they are tested to say but with the holes I'm hoping for a more even cook and a little less browning on the bottom.
                                              So that's a "hopefull" no. ;)

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                You've already gotten good advice on everything but I wanted to add here that if you dn't have the pans, you can separate the loaves by putting them on a well floured kitchen towel and then pulling a fold of the towel up between them. Make sure the fold is high enough that when the bread rises, they don't touch. I roll the dough onto parchment paper onto the peel and slide each in one at a time. It makes perfect shaped baguettes w/out extra equipment. Also, if you don't have a lame or razorblade to slash the dough, an exacto knife can work but you have to be firm with it. I've also used sharp kitchen sheers. Not as clean but works.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  Am I missing something here? Are you saying to actually bake it on the kitchen towel? Wouldn't it catch fire or something? I'm confused.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I used a pan for one loaf and a baking sheet for the other two to see what the difference might be. The pan made a nicely rounded shape, and it probably was more evenly cooked, but I didn't have any problem with the sheet. Just make sure you give them enough room.

                                              2. re: Fritter

                                                "If you want a very fine sea salt the TJ's sea salt fits the bill and it's inexpensive"

                                                I just needed to correct myself. The very fine sea salt I have is 365 brand from Whole Foods. Very inexpensive.

                                                1. re: Fritter

                                                  Thanks for the correction. We'll be back home in a couple of weeks where I have access to both. I'll definitely pick some up.

                                          2. re: c oliver

                                            I am almost embarrassed by the number of salts in my kitchen. I have a old-fashioned anchor hocking glass jar with the kosher salt by the stove that I use for cooking and baking. On the dining room table, I have baleine salt in the salt shaker, and a fancy Atlantic sea salt in a salt cellar. If you have baleine, or something similar, it would be a 1:1 substitution for table salt.

                                            Let's not discuss the salts in the pantry though.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I don't bake baguettes often, and most of my bread is naturally-leavened. So I don't want to comment on any particular recipe. I do think a moist oven atmosphere makes a huge difference, and since I don't have a covered baker that accommodates long, narrow loaves, which would provide the ideal atmosphere, I rarely attempt them.
                                              For baguette fiends, do see the covered baker that you pipe steam into that was featured in Rosa Levy Beranbaum's web site about a year ago.
                                              Some time ago, in a thread on no knead bread, someone--Chowser I think--said he bakes baguettes in an unglazed terra cotta bread box. I imagine he covers t with a cookie sheet. And several sources actually sell covered ceramic baguette bakers--check with the King Arthur site.
                                              I also think using a poolish preferment is a key to a really good yeasted baguettes. (The ones I had in Paris in the seventies never impressed me, and they were mostly using a fast direct method then.)
                                              As for the salt problem, try putting kosher salt in a food processor. I grind coarse sea salt that way. My salt from Guam is a tad bit coarse and holds a fair amount of moisture. So I spread it on a cookie sheet and leave it in an oven to completely dehydrate (the pilot light does it). Then I grind it in the food processor. It works well, so I should think kosher salt would grind nicely. And, I too, find table salt metalic tasting.

                                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                Father Kitchen listed several methods that trap steam for crispy crusts. There have been discussions on The Fresh Loaf about using a baking stone with a disposable aluminium foil pan as a cloche. (The foil pan is taken off after the first 10-15 minutes of baking.) I tried it, and it works a treat. You're limited only by the size of your baking stone and the foil pan. Here are some posts:



                                                1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                  I've been using unglazed quarry tiles. The baguette shaped dough holds its form well when I slide it in.

                                                  As the steam in the oven goes, I put a stoneware loafpan on the rack below and add water it. I've also just thrown a cup of water/ice into the oven.

                                                2. re: c oliver

                                                  I have a salt grinder, that takes care of the grains being to big. And you (I) don't use as much salt.

                                                  I lovea wonderful baquette, with spinach pesto. I got on a kick when the boys were young, trying to get their veggies in them, They LOVE spinach pesto to this day. Of course they eat it all now, but they still want and ask for the spinach pesto and baquettes. Fun to make.

                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    But try soaking the baguette in vine ripened tomatoes dripping with juice, some garlic and onions, and olive oil. And if you must, a bit of mozzarella--the fresh mozzarella di bufala.

                                                  2. re: c oliver

                                                    There are stainless salt shakers with adjustable lids with varying size holes, It works great for kosher salt. I think I got mine at World Market.

                                              2. re: smtucker

                                                If you swap out table salt for kosher you only add 30%, unless you prefer salty food. If you weigh your salt it you will get an exact conversion, but 30% is close enough if you use volumetric measurement.

                                                1. re: Kelli2006

                                                  My recipes [I love the Baker's Apprentice] uses weights, so I don't actually have to convert, but your post and Channa's below shows that I should never guesstimate on a board that is serious about food!

                                            2. re: c oliver

                                              "Bought the flour today, but the bags didn't have a baguette recipe"

                                              Did you buy the French flour? If you want that recipe I can post it. The one you have linked is a longer process but it is a KA guarunteed recipe. :)
                                              The next time you order stroll through the sale section. They some times have killer deals there.

                                              1. re: Fritter

                                                I bought the "Unbleached Bread Flour." The website had so many recipes so the one I picked just looked close enough. So, yes, I'd love that recipe also. Killer deals on the flour? I'll keep an eye out. They were all on sale a little but only a little.

                                            3. re: Fritter

                                              This bread is perfect! Just cut a couple of slices though not cooled yet. I followed the directions to a T and it all worked. And just think I've NEVER made bread before. The tip to put it in the oven with the light on worked great. Gave just a bit a non-cool. Thought time consuming, it's worth every bit of it. I'll have this skill forever and I appreciate everyone's help. It's the Chowhound spirit that I so love. As usual, I'm in your debt. Thanks to all.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Congratulations! My first yeast experience was 18 months ago, with the Cooks Illustrated version of no-knead bread. It came out fo the dutch oven looking like it belonged on the rack in a Parisian boulangerie...more gratifying than my first all A's report card!

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  I started making bread about 8 months ago, and we haven't bought, even a fancy artisinal, loaf since. When you are ready, I have a fantastic pita bread recipe.

                                                  Congratulations on your first success, of many!

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I'm so glad it worked out! Any photos? I agree - definitely worth the time. The process is half the fun anyway. And thanks to everyone who helped!

                                                2. The hardest part for me is not to cut into it before it has cooled. It's so tempting with a loaf of fresh bread. But, since recipes generally make more than one loaf, I often give in. If you don't have a baguette holder and are making multiple loaves, using a towel to keep the loafs in shape and separated works well but make sure there is enough towel in between to loaves don't run into each other when they rise. I only have a round pizza stone so I picked up unglazed quarry tile from Home Depot--just 6 small ones (6"x6") and lined the bottom rack. A pizza peel is helpful in getting it in and out of the oven but if you don't have one, put the dough on parchment paper (I use it even with the peel) so you can easily pull it in and out of the oven. Favorite uses? Just eating w/ cheese or seasoned olive oil. If it's slightly stale (day after), I've made good french bread pizza with it, too, Home made tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil.

                                                  Oh, since you're doing it on a rainy day, the moisture might affect it and you might need to use a little more flour.

                                                  1. I recently had the best baguette ever. It was fron a BAHN MI shop and they intergrate rice flour in their mix. I am in San Diego and we have a great deal of Bahn Mi sandwich shops.

                                                    1. Thanks for all the tips! I used the Julia recipe and KA flour and everything was great. I was prepared for this to be more of a learning experience with plenty of notes and adjustments for next time, but I must say that I was very happy with my first results!

                                                      We had the bread with as a sandwich with sliced radishes and butter, and also sliced with some cheese. I'll definitely be doing this again!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: agoldman

                                                        Yay. Did you take a picture? I'm a day behind you so am glad that the result exceeded your expectation. I bought some beautiful little French (?) radishes yesterday at our Growers Market. Sounds like a great way to christen a new loaf of bread.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          My sous chef (don't tell him I said that) did take some pictures. Here's the final result. You can see that the longer, straighter loaf is from the bread pan. Good luck with your baking! I had a lot of fun trying it, and the kneading is certainly a good stress reliever. I'm looking forward to your comments on how it turns out.