The best thing for me about holidays in France is going to a boulangerie to get fresh baguettes, coming back proudly brandishing the crusty sticks, pretending I’m a proper French person. And of course surreptitiously biting off the tops, which gives my game away because the French don’t get so tempted.
I'm a sworn Francophile and I am in awe of the basic everyday comforts that they get so right. No matter how small a village – it will have at least one or two boulangeries, baking twice daily. They will have local or regional varieties, some invariably named after the place, plus some stone baked or sourdough rustic loaves and, bien sûr, les croissants. But I am not really half as drawn to the latter as I am to the baguettes. Croissants you can get anywhere, authentic baguettes – only in France.
The recipe below is from ‘Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day’ – very good, but there’s not much to a good baguette dough save flour, water and yeast. The two things that make a difference are the flour, French type 55, which is attainable for me, and a baker’s oven – which hélas! is not. So my French sticks are tasty and chewy as they should be – the flour decides on the chewiness – but never as crusty as baked by a boulanger. Alors tant pis!
- 680g French white type 55 flour, or strong white flour
- 14g salt
- 17g fresh or 7g fast action yeast
- 454g lukewarm water
Mix all the ingredients into soft sticky dough by hand or in a standing mixer on the lowest speed. Leave for 5 minutes then knead or mix again until the dough forms a smooth ball. Cover and keep overnight in the fridge.
The next day remove the dough from the fridge – it should have risen appreciably, about twice in volume - and let it stand in room temperature for at least half an hour. Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide into four pieces. Pat each piece gently into a rectangle then fold the bottom edge up to the middle and press with your fingers. Now lift the top and fold over right to the bottom and seal well. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then repeat exactly the same process with each baguette, rolling it out with your hands to the desired length.
Place the baguettes on lightly floured baking trays, cover with a cloth or put in an inflated plastic bag (just blow into it and tie the ends!) and leave in a warm place to prove for about an hour and a quarter, until slightly puffed up and spread.
Preheat the oven to the highest setting. Slash each baguette three or four times on a diagonal, place the trays in the oven and spray it very generously with water (a plant pressure sprayer works the best). Close the oven door quickly and turn the heat down to 230C/450F/gas 8. Bake for 12 minutes, then turn the heat further down to 200C/400F/gas 6 and bake for further 15 minutes until the baguettes are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Cool on a wire rack.