French Baguettes – with 80% Hydration

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I love bread.

No, I mean it. I LOVE bread. The crustier the better. Do you remember that scene from the movie Ratatouille, where they’re talking about the crust of bread?

Ratatouille Bread

This is so true. Great bread sings. That crackle of the crust is one of the greatest sound on earth. And this is a musician saying this! And I stand by it too. The GREATEST sound! 

If my boyfriend’s not worried about my feelings about bread, he should be.

Anyway, the baguettes.

FrenchBaguette1

Just look at those baguettes. That crust. The soft, chewy interior. Perfection! The secret? Hydration. 80% hydration. 

I’m not gonna lie – these are not for the feint hearted. There are easier breads to make. Like, WAY easier breads to make. This is a special occasion bread. From Poolish to finished product was around 20 hours. Now, a lot of that is resting, but you need to make these while you’re at home for most of the day for the folding/resting stages.

The Poolish is the sponge used to start off this recipe, which allows for some pre-fermentation and great flavour. Thankfully, you can whip this up in 2 minutes, leave it on the counter for an hour or two to get going, and then pop in the fridge overnight. Take it out in the morning, let it sit on the counter and come back to room temperature and rise a bit more (I left mine for 2 hours or so), and then it’s time to get going. This is what mine looked like:

FrenchBaguettePoolish

Your Poolish should have doubled to tripled in volume by the time you start the rest of the recipe. I measured mine by marking the volume on the side of the bowl on starting with a little tape, as it’s very easy to lose track of how much its risen.

Then comes the stretching and folding. Lots of it. This dough will be very loose and sticky, that’s normal for dough with this much water in it, so bear with it, and try not to add too much flour in during the folding stage. To stretch and fold, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle lightly with flour. To stretch and fold, pull the dough out in one direction (preferably with a dough scraper – that will help big time), and fold it back over the rest of the dough.

So yes, the 17 hours prep. time in the recipe is roughly accurate, but a lot of that is proving time, so don’t let it put you off!

But the result. Oh that result.

FrenchBaguette4

Try and tell me that’s not worth the effort. I dare you.

French Baguettes - 80% Hydration
Yields 3
Crusty, chewy, delicious french baguettes!
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Cook Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
For the Poolish
  1. 250g strong white/bread flour
  2. 200mls water (room temp.)
  3. 2g active dry yeast
For the Dough
  1. 250g strong white/bread flour
  2. 200mls water (room temp.)
  3. 2g active dry yeast
  4. 2 tsp salt
For the Poolish
  1. In a large bowl (leaving plenty room for rising), combine the flour, water and yeast to a very loose batter-like dough. Leave it on the counter for 2 hours, then transfer to the fridge for 10 hours (this works well overnight).
  2. Remove the poolish from the fridge and leave at room temperature to reactivate, for around 2 hours. It should have doubled to tripled in volume and be visibly bubble.
For the Dough
  1. Add the 200mls of water to the poolish and stir well to dilute it. Add the remaining ingredients and mix into a rough dough.
  2. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, and stretch and fold for around 2 minutes (for a how-to on stretching and folding, see the description).
  4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and leave to rest for 45 minutes.
  5. Repeat the stretch and fold, followed by a 45 minute rest, 3 more times.
  6. After the fourth stretch and fold, segment the dough into 3 equal parts, and shape roughly into a baguette shape.
  7. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes on the counter.
  8. Continue shaping the bread into a longer baguette shape (dust the outside well with flour for transferring to the baking sheet, as well as for a beautiful, rustic finished appearance).
  9. Transfer the shaped baguettes to a baking sheet or baguette pan lined with greaseproof paper or dusted well with flour. Cover, and leave to prove for 45 minutes.
  10. Preheat the oven to 240C/460F. Place an empty baking tray on the bottom of the oven.
  11. Dust the baguettes with some extra flour, score, and place in the preheated oven. Pour some hot water into the hot baking tray at the bottom of the oven. This creates steam, which helps with crust development.
  12. Bake the baguettes in a closed oven for 25 minutes. At the 25 minute point, open the oven to release the steam and bake for a further 5 minutes with the door propped open slightly.
  13. Remove the baguettes from the oven and cool on a baking tray.
  14. Allow to cool most of the way (if you have the restraint!) before digging in!
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