Forming and Baking Baguettes Article -
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How to Form and Bake Baguettes

Baguettes are loved for their great taste and shatteringly crisp crust. Served whole, they're wonderful with any main dish. Sliced, they are perfect on a cheese plate or as crostini. Baguettes are a little more difficult to form than your average loaf, but after practicing these techniques, you'll be able to shape them easily.

1. Home bakers can employ a trick called the "autolyse" method when mixing the dough: mix the unbleached bread flour and water and let it sit for 20-30 minutes before adding the fresh, instant yeast, or proofed active dry yeast. This gives the flour time to absorb the water and makes a dough that's easier to work with. Mix in the yeast and salt, and knead as directed. After the dough has risen once, deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Use a bench knife or serrated knife to divide the dough.

2. The recipe we used calls for the dough to be separated into three equal pieces. Be sure to consult your recipe before dividing the dough. Use a dough cutter or serrated knife to cut the dough. Same-sized loaves ensure the baguettes all bake in the same amount of time.

3. Roll the baguette tightly so that it will rise evenly. Flatten the portioned dough with the palm of your hand to force out any excess gas. Roll the dough up and away from you, tucking it in with your fingers as you roll. You should feel the outside of the dough stretch (but not tear) as you roll.

    4. When you finish rolling up the loaf, pinch the dough together tightly to seal the seam. If the seam isn't well sealed, the dough might unroll as it rises and bakes. If there's too much flour on the dough or the seal doesn't stick, moisten the seam slightly with water and pinch the sides together again.

      5. Begin rolling the baguette by placing your hands on either side of the loaf's center. Working from the center outward, apply a gentle downward pressure, rolling the dough back and forth on the work surface. The loaf should lengthen into a rope and you should feel the dough stretch but not tear. Any air bubbles should work their way out toward the ends, where you can pop them.

        6. Shape the additional dough into long loaves as directed above.

          7. Place the shaped loaves seam-side up on a well-floured baker's couche, pastry cloth, or kitchen towel on a sheet pan. Tuck folds of floured cloth around the sides of the loaves to help support the dough as it rises and to separate the baguettes. Place the dough in a warm area to rise for 30 to 45 minutes; an oven warmed by a pan of hot water is ideal.

            8. When the dough is nearly doubled in size, remove the tray from the oven and cover the loaves with a damp towel to finish proofing. Preheat the oven. If you have a baking stone, place it on a lower oven rack to preheat as well. Carefully lift the loaves with both hands and place them seam-side down on a baking sheet that's been sprinkled with cornmeal or in a ridged baguette pan. If you have a peel or small cutting board, tuck the board's edge between two loaves and use a fold of the cloth to flip one loaf onto the peel. Transfer to cornmeal-sprinkled pan. Be gentle: if mishandled, the dough might fall and you will have a tough, flat baguette. Repeat with remaining loaves.

              9. Use a serrated knife or single-edged razor blade to make three or four long, quick slashes down the length of the loaf. Hold the blade at about a 20-degree angle--you want to cut just under the surface of the dough. These scores allow gas to escape without bursting the seam and form the characteristic crusty "ears" on each loaf. Immediately transfer the sheet pan or baguette pan to the oven and spritz the walls of the oven with water to create a burst of steam. Bake until golden brown; the loaves should sound hollow when the bottoms are tapped.

                Sep. 26, 2009 11:20 am
                yum yum yummy for my tummy
                Oct. 19, 2009 9:59 am
                I made french bread and it did not get brown on the top. Help. The bottom is a nice brown. The middle is chewy and the outside is a little too tough,
                Frankie D. 
                Nov. 30, 2009 12:38 pm
                My french bread raises sideways instead of up making flat wide instead of round loaves. what am I doing wrong?
                Jan. 12, 2010 9:33 pm
                Frankie D, add a little more flour to the dough to make firmer and it will hold the shape better. Also using the U-shaped pans sold in some specialty stores help a lot.
                Feb. 22, 2010 7:29 pm
                Could anyone tell me how to slash the loaves without them falling? It's very disheartening to have these beautiful risen loaves ready to bake and watch them fall each and every time. Any suggestions?
                Pi MAN 
                Mar. 16, 2010 10:43 am
                bev Could anyone tell me how to slash the loaves without them falling? Sounds like you are waiting to long to cut the loafs. Let the bread proof to about 2/3 the finished size then cut. The bread will blosem in the oven to the full size.
                Apr. 18, 2010 5:43 am
                Thanks for the hint Pi Man. I followed your suggestion and my loaves turned out great!
                Sep. 6, 2010 10:38 pm
                Thanks for the nice tips about Baking Baguettes. I like this disease so much.
                Apr. 30, 2011 11:46 am
                i am having troubles getting the large air pockets and the chewy texture i am used to seeing in bageuette. and in Italian flat breads. can any one tel me the secret
                Jun. 5, 2011 3:34 pm
                Use a little less flour (moister dough) and make sure your oven is preheated. Also I try to handle the dough as little as possible. By not squeezing all the bubbles out as suggested in the article I find my loaves quite light and airy. hth
                Aug. 7, 2011 10:53 am
                bev- keep th eproven bread in cold room before cooking and slash it just before baking. it will give a firm shape and will be easy to make slash. To make baguette golden in colour and crispy, add little reased-corn-flour while mixing.
                Aug. 7, 2011 10:54 am
                bev- keep the proven bread in cold room and slash it just before baking. it will give a firm shape and will be easy to make slash. To make baguette golden in colour and crispy, add little reased-corn-flour while mixing.
                Oct. 17, 2011 12:21 pm
                Use a very sharp knife and make the hash marks as quick as possible.
                Nov. 3, 2011 3:29 pm
                We are enjoying our baguette, but we've not eaten it fast enough and the half loaf has gotten hard. Is there anyway to soften it again for eating? Help!
                Nov. 7, 2011 3:50 pm
                BecyLN - I don't know of any way to re-soften baguettes, but the French name for French toast - 'pain perdu,' or 'lost/forgotten bread - suggests an excellent use for stale baguettes :) Slightly stale French bread also makes excellent bread pudding, crostini, or croutons.
                Nov. 17, 2011 1:36 pm
                Way back when I worked in a French bakery. When the bakers wanted a bit more design on top, they would snip the dough with scissors. Can be a little sharp, but it looks great!
                Jan. 31, 2012 9:10 am
                To resoffen the bread try using a moist papertowel and put in microwave. I have done this with store bought bagettes and have had some success at getting a softer bread.
                Apr. 7, 2012 3:28 pm
                What is the purpose of the slashes on the top of the french bread? I made four loaves today, I slashed 2 & two I didn`t, all four of them came out the same, except two have slashes on them and 2 don`t. Will someone please till me the purpose of slashing the tops. I`ve wondered about this for 15 or 20 years. No one ever says WHY????
                Apr. 7, 2012 3:40 pm
                To soften old bread, even if it`s been in the fridge for a week,((where I keep mine after the secound day in a plastic wrapper, not the cello ones they sell some breads in, cause in two days in a cello wrap, fridge on no and you will have a hard rock), just pop them in the microwave for 15 secounds for 2 slices or 30 to 45 secs. for a loaf, keep an eye on it, you`ll get the hang of it.
                Apr. 30, 2013 6:38 am
                Answers: To soften loaves that are hard after a few days just spray with water and put in warm oven for a few minutes. They come out soft and fresh again. Also, store them in wax paper and a plastic bag which makes them very soft. The reason the slashes are made on the tops was explained also in the recipe, to prevent the gases from bursting the seam on the loaves which will cause flattening.
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