I used my pizza dough recipe to make baguettes and it's my best salt-free baguette yet (and I've attempted a lot of baguettes this year). It's the exact same overnight, no-knead pizza dough that happens to work beautifully as a baguette and best of all, it's still practically sodium free! Soft and chewy on the inside with a hint of honey and oil, crispy and crackly on the outside.
I like a long, slow ferment for most of my yeasted breads because: (1) I hate kneading bread and I don't have a stand mixer, (2) the timing actually works well with my schedule, and can be flexible to accommodate any schedule, and (3) the long, slow ferment gives the bread more flavor. So this bread can take up to 21 hours from start to finish, but most of that time is hands off while the dough is rising.
For a festive twist, shape your baguettes into little sheafs of wheat (an epi de ble)! See my notes below for this. Baguettes can be a labor of love. If you want a crusty bread with a little less work, try my no-knead crusty boule bread which is also practically sodium free.
Servings: Three 13-14 inch baguettes
Sodium: The only sodium is in the very trace amounts found in the yeast, garlic and onion powder
Time: 3 hours plus 12-18 hours for the initial rise
500 g bread flour (about 4 cups, all purpose flour works fine, too, but bread flour gives you a chewier loaf)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp instant yeast (active yeast works, too)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
315 g water (about 1 1/3 cups)
Overview: here's what the process looks like in 9 pictures. Mix the dough and let it rise 12-18 hours (overnight, really), then fold and shape and divide into three pieces. Preshape in a cylinder, then roll out into long baguettes. Let them rest, then score and bake in a hot, steamy oven. See below for step-by-step directions and videos. Aside from the standard bread-making ingredients and tools, you'll need a spray bottle and either a baguette pan or a large, firm towel to use as a baker's couche. See notes/tips below.
1) Mix the dough and give it a long rest: In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir to blend, then add the wet ingredients and using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly. I usually start with a spoon, and need to finish mixing by hand to get it combined. The dough is shaggy and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let the dough rest for 12-18 hours at room temperature until it has doubled. When it's warm, the dough may double in volume and be ready in as little as 9 hours.
If your dough has doubled in size but you're not quite ready to make the bread, you can put it in the refrigerator. I've let the dough sit in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours and it's worked just fine. For example, if you mix the dough at night at say 7 pm, you can either make it first thing in the morning or you can throw it in the fridge in the morning and make it at any time during the day. When you take it out of the refrigerator, just give it about 30 minutes to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
This is the dough just after mixing.
Here's how it looks after 14 hours.
2) Fold the dough over and divide into three pieces - turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and fold it over 5-6 times. Do this by pulling the top of the dough towards the center, and then doing the same with the left, right, and bottom. Shape the dough into an oval and divide it into 3 pieces, roughly the same size. Flour your work surface as necessary. If your initial cut results in 3 pieces that aren't similarly sized, just cut chunks of dough off the larger piece and redistribute as necessary.
This dough can be pretty sticky. The trick to handling it is to keep the surface of the dough lightly floured and to handle it very gently so you're really only touching the surface and not pressing deeper into the ball of dough. Using a dough scraper also helps a lot.
Here's a video to illustrate this step:
3) Pre-shape the dough and give it a short rest - lightly flour your surface again, and fold each piece of dough into the shape of a cylinder. Do this by flattening the dough, and then folding in the sides and rolling the top over to form a cylinder. Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.
I've tried skipping this pre-shaping step before and my baguettes were very hard to shape so don't skip it. You're taking a large, round piece of dough and shaping it into a long, thin piece so it really helps to transform the shape of the dough in stages and to let the dough rest in between steps.
If you don't want to make all three loaves, see notes below for freezing some of the dough at this stage. I rarely freeze dough because I figure if I've already got it all out I might a well bake it and freeze the baked bread. If you don't want 3 full baguettes, split up the dough and make some combination of pizza crusts/baguettes/rolls/calzones, all of which can be frozen.
Here's another video clip to help:
4) Shape the baguettes - I use a baguette pan in this next step. If you don't have one, see the Notes below on how to make a baker's couche (basically just a big piece of thick fabric) and peel to proof the loaves.
Lightly flour your surface and gently flatten each piece of dough into the shape of an oval. Then start to form the baguette by folding the top over and pressing it into the center, and then do that again until you reach the bottom of the dough. What you want to do here is pull the outer surface of the dough so it creates a tight skin. Don't push into the dough, just keep the pressure on the outer surface. When you get to the bottom, pinch and seal the edges.
Then flour your surface again and start to roll out the loaf. Start with the loaf seam side down, and cup your hands over the middle of the loaf and roll towards the ends. Make the ends pointy or round. I roll mine out to about 15 inches long (because that's the length of my pan). The dough will naturally shrink back a little bit as you roll, but if it is pulling back a lot as you try to roll it out, let it rest 10 minutes and try again. Lightly dust with flour and transfer each shaped loaf onto a baguette pan or a well-floured baker's couche.
Cover the loaves with a towel and let rest for 60 minutes.
Here's another video to help:
Make sure you pinch and seal the dough at the end of the folding or you'll end up with an unsightly burst like this:
5) Prepare for baking - preheat your oven to 500°F. Place an oven rack on the top part of the oven, and remove all the lower racks. Place a cake pan at the bottom of the oven while it's preheating, and add just enough water to the pan so that it doesn't dry out and overheat in the oven as it heats up. Fill a spray bottle with water and leave it next to the oven. Boil 2-3 cups of water and get it ready to use when you bake.
6) Score - when the baguettes are done proofing, lightly sprinkle with a little flour, and use a sharp knife or razor blade to cut 3-4 diagonal slits on the top. I finally gave in and bought a bread lame because I couldn't quite get a good clean cut with any of my knives. The trick is to slash quickly, and make a deep enough cut that the bread can open up along the cuts.
Here's another video:
7) Bake - Have your boiling water and spray bottle ready. First, put a kitchen towel in the cake pan and pour two cups of hot water into the cake pan at the bottom of the oven. Then put the baguettes in the oven, and then spray with water about 5-6 times around the oven to create more steam. Now turn the oven down to 457°F and bake for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, set the oven to 450°F, remove the cake pan, and rotate the baguettes so they brown evenly. Bake for another 6-8 minutes. Then turn the oven off completely, but leave the baguettes in the oven for another 5 minutes with the door slightly ajar. This will help create a crispy crust.
This tiered/timed baking temperature system may seem really annoying but it helps you get a really good crust and crumb. If you'd rather not deal with it, just preheat and bake at 450°F for the entire time and cool on a wire rack.
Here's a video and summary of bake times:
500°F - Preheat for at least 20 minutes
475°F - Bake for 15 minutes (or less if your baguettes get too brown)
450°F - Bake for 6-8 minutes
Oven off with door slightly ajar - leave for 5 minutes
Cool completely on wire rack
8) Cool completely on a wire rack or just dig into them right away as we usually do. Let them cool completely before storing.
-Use a scale to measure the ingredients whenever possible, especially flour. If you don't have a scale, King Arthur Baking has this great video on how to measure flour accurately.
-There are a lot of fun ways you can shape this dough. If I'm making these for a party or group, I love making an epi de ble (sheaf of wheat). King Arthur has a great tutorial on how to do this here. You can also make rolls by dividing the dough into 12-16 pieces and rolling each into a ball instead of shaping into baguettes. Flatten the balls slightly, cover and let rest for 45 minutes, and then bake at 450°F for about 15 minutes.
-If you don't have a baguette pan, you can easily make these on a large sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Make your own baker's couche using any stiff kitchen towel,
and make a peel using a piece of cardboard covered with foil. The couche helps the baguettes maintain their shape while they proof so anything that is stiff enough to keep them place will work. Just be sure to flour the couche liberally so the dough doesn't stick when you go to transfer it. The peel helps for the last transfer when the baguettes are done proofing and you don't want to stretch of squish them right before they go into the oven. Roll the baguettes onto the cardboard peel and then roll them onto the sheet pan to bake.
-On more than one occasion I've forgotten to turn the oven temperature down after putting the baguettes in and I end up baking them at 500°F for the first 15 minutes. They actually turn out okay, and some people might even prefer them this way. They are crustier and a bit shorter because they bake up a bit taller, but they still taste great. If you go this route, take the temperature down to 425 after the first 15 minutes and then bake for another 5-8 minutes and then cool the same way.
-These are best enjoyed the same day but if you have any leftover, put it in an airtight container and refrigerate then toast when you're ready to eat it.
-You can freeze all or part of the dough for another day. After shaping the dough (step 3) wrap it in generously oiled plastic wrap and then put in a ziplock bag and freeze. To use, defrost overnight in the refrigerator in the plastic wrap and ziplock bag. Once you're ready to use it, lightly flour your work surface, take the dough out of the plastic wrap and shape it again into a cylinder. Let it rest at least 30 minutes (up to an hour) and then proceed with shaping and rolling it into a baguette. The dough should be soft and easy to handle. If it's hard to stretch or cold to the touch, let it rest a bit longer.
-You can also freeze a baked baguette. Let it cool completely and then wrap it several times in plastic wrap. I do about 4-5 rounds of plastic wrap, and then put the whole loaf in a thick plastic bag. The baguettes will be too long for most ziplock bags, so sometimes if I know I'm going to be freezing them, I'll make my baguettes a little shorter (about 12 inches). Defrost the baguettes in the refrigerator overnight (keep them in the same plastic wrap). When you're ready to eat them, bake in a 375°F oven until crispy and warm, about 10 minutes. Or just cut slices off and toast them in a standard toaster (this is what we do most of the time).