You can buy a special baguette tray with a curved surface to get perfectly round loaves but it is fine to use a baking tray. For a good baguette, a thorough knead to develop the elasticity of the dough is essential. You also need to shape the loaf well and bake it in a steamy oven to get a light crisp crust and soft interior.
The classic French baguette is one of the most renowned breads and one of the longest. As it is too lengthy to fit in most domestic ovens, I’ve given a recipe for a mini version.
- 250 g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 5 g salt
- 5 g fast-action dried yeast
- 1½ tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, plus extra for oiling
- 180 ml cool water
- Semolina for dusting
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Rising time: 2 hours + 1 hour
1. Put the flour in a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. (You can make this dough by hand but as it is wet and difficult to handle – and needs a very long knead – I would highly recommend using a mixer.)
2. Start mixing on a slow speed and gradually add the oil and water. After 5 minutes, turn the speed up to medium and mix for a further 5–10 minutes, until you have a glossy, elastic dough that forms a ball on the dough hook and has a long, strong stretch when you pull it. You should be able to stretch a piece out by 30 cm without it breaking.
3. Tip the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise for 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size.
4. Mix equal quantities of white flour and semolina together for dusting and scatter on a work surface. Tip the dough onto the surface and knock back by pressing it down with the heels of your hands and then the tips of your fingers. Fold the dough in on itself several times to give it greater strength for rising.
5. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. You are now going to shape the dough to give it form and structure. Stretch each piece of dough into a long oblong, with a long side facing you. Fold the long edge furthest from you firmly down into the middle, then fold the bottom edge up into the middle and push it down firmly with your knuckles or fingertips.
6. Turn each piece over and roll into a baguette shape, keeping the dough nice and taut as you do so and applying a little extra pressure on the ends to get the classic baguette shape. The top should be smooth with
a seam running along the bottom.
7. Line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper, unless you have a good non-stick tray. Dust the tray well with the flour and semolina mixture, then lift the shaped baguettes onto it.
8. Place the baking tray inside a roomy plastic bag that won’t touch the dough as it rises. Leave to prove, or rise again, for about 1 hour until the baguettes have roughly doubled in size. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200°C fan-forced (see Note) and put a roasting tray on the bottom shelf.
9. Just before baking, dust the baguettes with the flour and semolina mix. Now slash the tops 3 times with a sharp knife, using long diagonal strokes and cutting about 2cm deep. This helps the top of the dough to open out attractively and gives the baguette its characteristic appearance.
10. Pour 1 litre water into the roasting tray to create some steam, which helps to form the crust. Bake the loaves in the oven for 25 minutes, then lower the oven setting to 180°C fan-forced (see Note) and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the baguettes are golden brown and have a slight sheen to them. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
• Baking times and instructions are given for fan-forced ovens. If using a conventional oven, you will need to increase the oven setting by around 10-15°C. Ovens vary, so check your bread towards the end of the suggested cooking time.