I am always trying to improve my skills in the kitchen, and a lot of time that involves trying out new gadgets and toys. I’ve experimented with pasta makers, sous vide machines, and immersion blenders, but I think the gizmo that might improve my cooking the most might also be the simplest. This week I bought a little $7 digital scale for the kitchen, and I can already tell it’s making me a better baker. If you’ve ever watched The Great British Bake-Off, then you know that America is pretty much alone in measuring baking ingredients by volume instead of by weight. And it’s obvious to see why no one else in the world does it this way; when you measure by volume, you might inadvertently pack the flour or sugar in too loosely or too tightly and mess up the recipe. We did a little experiment once we got the scale, and found that depending on how we scooped and evened it, the actual amount of flour in a cup could differ by up to 10%, which could really mess up a recipe like this one where you want a very wet and sticky dough.
The other keys to this recipe revolve around taking your time with some of the important steps. First, you are going to want to make what’s called a poolish, which is basically a slurry of flour, water, and a pinch of yeast that you let ferment overnight. This bubbly concoction helps the baguette its signature chew and flavor. The other step that takes some patience is the kneading. Even in a stand mixer, it took me about 10 minutes to knead this dough to a point where it wasn’t a sticky mess, which is probably to be expected given how much water is in this dough. You just don’t want to rush it or you might not get the crust and air pockets that make a baguette so good.
For the Poolish:
120 g Bread Flour
120 g Cool Water
Pinch of Yeast
- Combine all poolish ingredients in tupperware or other airtight container. Whisk to incorporate, cover, and leave at room temperature for 12-18 hours.
- Combine poolish and all other ingredients in bowl of stand mixer and incorporate with a rubber spatula. Knead using dough hook on medium speed for 8-12 minutes, or until the dough can be stretched and passes the window pane test.
- Roll dough into a ball, place into an oiled bowl, and cover and let rise for 90 minutes. Halfway through the rise, stretch and fold the dough over on itself 6 times, rotating after each time, to encourage gluten development.
- Divide dough in half. Press each half down into a rectangle about a half inch thick. Fold the long sides of rectangle towards the center, pushing down to get them to stay. Fold the long sides in again, making sure the crease is tight. Flip the rectangle over so the crease is on the bottom and roll the dough until it is the length you want.
- Place loaves in a generously floured linen cloth that is folded and creased in the shape of a V. This will ensure the dough grows upwards rather than outwards and produces a skinny baguette. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 475 F with a pizza stone inside. Also place a pan at the bottom of the oven.
- When it is time to bake, use a sharp knife to score your dough. Place five long diagonal slashes down the loaf. Spritz the loaf all over with water.
- Place the baguette on the pizza stone and place one cup of water or ice in the pan at the bottom of the oven. This will create steam that will encourage better crust development.
- Bake for 14-17 minutes, or until the dough has reached a temp of 190F. Place on a wire rack to cool (or just tear into it right away like I did).