Classic baguettes

Photo by Sergio Arze on Unsplash
To many Americans, a baguette is French bread. If you've ever spent any time in Paris however, a baguette is but one of a thousand types of bread, and each of them has a history and allure all its own.

Real baguettes are made in a special oven and recreating them at home is notoriously difficult. However, I took a bread class in Paris some years ago and have been working furiously in the years since to get something that approximates the wonderful breads of France to come out of my oven in Lancaster. I took my recipe from Paris and adapted it to my American kitchen and then when it's time to bake I put a skillet of water on the bottom rack of my oven.

That skillet adds steam to the baking process and steam makes breads rise higher and gives these Americanized baguettes the distinctive crust and crumb texture that I remember well.

This recipe is the backbone of my bread classes; and its simple, four-ingredient recipe makes it a great project for someone who's just starting to bake bread at home.

Classic Baguettes


1/2 cup cool water
pinch of active dry yeast
120 grams all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup+ lukewarm water
all of the starter
420 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt


  1. To make the starter: Mix everything together with a spatula until combined. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have expanded and become bubbly.
  2. To make the dough: Mix and knead everything together to make a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. The finished dough should stick a bit at the bottom of the bowl but not quite stick to your hands.
  3. Place the dough in a bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 90 minutes. At 45 minutes, deflate it gently by folding the edges into the center and turn over.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently deflate it, and divide it into two equal pieces.
  5. Round each piece of dough into a rough ball by pulling the edges into the center. Flour lightly and cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes or for up to 1 hour.
  6. Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough slightly then fold it nearly (but not quite) in half, sealing the edges with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough around, and repeat: fold, then flatten. Repeat this whole process again; the dough should have started to elongate itself.
  7. With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 16" log. Your goal is a 15" baguette, so 16" allows for the slight shrinkage you'll see once you're done rolling. Taper each end of the log slightly to create the baguette's typical "pointy" end.
  8. Place the logs seam-side down onto a parchment-lined sheet pan or pans; or into the folds of a heavily floured cotton dish towel (or couche). Cover them with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise until they're slightly puffy. The loaves should certainly look lighter and less dense than when you first shaped them, but won't be anywhere near doubled in bulk. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature (about 68°F).
  9. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F with a saute pan on the lowest rack. If you're using a baking stone, place it on a middle rack. Start to heat 1 1/2 cups water to boiling.
  10. If your baguettes have risen in a dish towel or couche, gently roll them (seam side down) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
  11. Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make five diagonal slashes in each baguette.
  12. Load the baguettes into the oven. Carefully pour the boiling water into the cast iron pan, and quickly shut the oven door. The billowing steam created by the boiling water will help the baguettes rise, and give them a shiny crust.
  13. Bake the baguettes for 24 to 28 minutes, or until they're a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack.