French Baguette

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Chef Danielle Forestier makes this traditional French classic recipe for a French baguette for Julia Child's classic show "Baking with Julia."

Yield: 3 to 4 Loaves or 2 Boules

Course:
Cuisine:

Ingredients

  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups cool water (about 78 F)
  • One .6-ounce cube compressed (fresh) yeast
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. Mound flour on a smooth work surface and make a well in the center. A little at a time, pour water into the well. Use fingertips to draw in flour closest to water. Work in increasingly larger circles, adding water and drawing in flour to form a medium-soft dough. Pull dough toward you with a dough scraper. Smear small pieces of dough across the work surface away from you with the heel of your hand. Work through all the dough in this way.
  2. Put dough on a floured board, cover with a towel, and let rest 15 minutes. Flatten dough into a disk and crumble yeast over it; fold dough over on itself to mix in yeast. Repeat flattening and folding until yeast is fully incorporated. Sprinkle on salt and knead for 15 minutes, using flour as necessary, until smooth and elastic.
  3. Grab dough at one end and lift shoulder-high. Slam it onto work surface and roll dough over on itself. Give dough a quarter turn, grab at one end, and repeat slamming, rolling, and turning motion for 10 to 15 minutes, using flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Form into a tight ball and let rest, covered with a floured towel, for 15 minutes. Turn dough over and flatten slightly.
  5. Grab dough on either side and stretch it out; fold stretched ends back to the center. Repeat with top and bottom. Work into a tight ball and put onto a floured baker's peel or floured work surface, cover with a floured towel, and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled. Turn dough out onto work surface and punch down.
  6. Divide into thirds or quarters (or halves, for boules; see below). Form into balls, cover lightly, and let rest 5 minutes. Rub flour into a large cotton towel and lay on a board or peel. Make a standing pleat at a short end of the towel and set aside.
  7. To form batards, turn dough smooth side down and flatten it. Lift dough, fold into thirds, and flatten into an even rectangle. Roll and flatten two more times. Dust hands, dough, and board with flour as necessary. Put dough seam side up on work surface and mark the midpoint with a groove. Lift top edge of dough and fold it two thirds of the way down. Seal the seam with the heel of your hand. Lift, fold, and seal again.
  8. Fold top edge down to bottom edge and seal the seam. Scrape work surface and, working with one piece of dough at a time, turn the dough seam side down, cup right hand over center of dough, and place cupped left hand over right. Start rolling dough back and forth along counter, widening the space between hands as dough extends; keep hands cupped and fingertips and heels of hands touching the counter. Push dough forward with heels of hands and pull it back with fingertips.
  9. When it is about 14 inches long, press down on ends to taper them. Lift shaped dough, seam side up, onto floured towel and pull a pleat of towel up to cradle it. When pieces are shaped, fold end of towel over loaves and let rest 2 hours, or until dough has risen and barely springs back when poked. Position rack in lower third of oven and line with a baking tile. Place a cast-iron skillet on oven bottom.
  10. Preheat oven to 425 F. Flour a baker's peel. Toss 1/2 cup water into skillet and immediately close oven door. Flip one batard onto the peel and slash 3 diagonal cuts in the top. Transfer immediately to the oven. Slash and transfer the other two batards as fast as possible. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until brown and an internal temperature of 200 F. Cool loaves at least 20 minutes before cutting.
  11. To form a boule, fold dough over on itself a few times on an unfloured work surface. Work dough between hands and surface to form a smooth ball. Line a colander with a floured towel and place dough inside. Let it rise in the colander 2 hours.
  12. Position rack in lower third of oven and line with a baking tile. Place a cast-iron skillet on oven bottom. Preheat oven to 425 F. Flour a baker's peel.
  13. Toss 1/2 cup water into skillet and immediately close oven door. Roll the boule onto the floured peel and transfer to the oven. Bake 25 minutes or until brown and an internal temperature of 200 F. Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.