The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My Life Would Be Complete If I Could Make The Perfect Baguette

JT's picture

My Life Would Be Complete If I Could Make The Perfect Baguette

Hi Everyone!

 First off, I'd like to say hello and introduce myself. My name is John Taylor, and about six months ago I had a revelation that making a really good loaf of bread was the kind of ability that made you an inherently good human being. Since then, I've been baking almost every weekend and really enjoying the process.

I stumbled across TFL website a few weeks ago and it was an eye-opener to say the least. This is an incredible resource, an excellent community, and my abilities have improved vastly since I've been utilizing the site. Before this, I was basically trying recipes from a Martha Stewart baking book, which to be honest were rather good. I guess baked goods are the new cigarettes in today's prison system...

 My passion has been to bake the perfect bageutte. OK, "perfect" is a mighty big word, but you get the jist: Artisan Bread, the kind with flaky, crunchy crusts and marshmallow-soft crumb with holes in a variety of sizes that melts in your mouth with the right combination of yeasty, wheaty flavors. Mmmm. That's what I'm talking about!

The other day, I came across a thread by the brilliant "Eric" and his cohorts, "The Sourdough Guy" and "The Crumb Bum." (Maybe I need a more Hip Hop/Baker handle...The Yeast Beast. Maybe not). In it, Ed linked to two videos - one by Danielle Foristier, showing the government-sanctioned method of French bread making, and one by (I think) Sourdough Guy, demonstrating the French Fold. It was truly a sea-change in thinking for me. Martha is definitely a hands-off baker - put the ingredients in the mixer, leave the room and go make a decorative table swan out of missing socks, then come back in 12 hours and you have bread. I wanted something more tactile. I decided to try Danielle's method this weekend.

Tactile aint the half of it. For any of you who've watched the video, Ms. Foristier treats her dough like Stone Cold Steve Austin treats Hulk Hogan in a WWF Cage Match. I think her bread comes out perfect because the dough is absolutely terrified of her by the time she's done with it, and dissapointing this Baking Dominatrix will only lead to further punishment. On the other hand, the simple and elegant French Fold makes me think that it just cannot be enough kneading to accomplish the task. So I stuck with Danielle's method.

There's a point to all of this. Well, actually not a point, but a lot of questions - the answers which I hoped you wonderful people would help enlighten me. The bread I ended up with today had the best crust I've ever made, but the crumb was pretty tight - not too chewey, but smaller, uniform holes. Good, balanced taste. So let's start at the begining.

1) How wet is wet enough? The basic lessons on this site say "the wetter the better." Danielle says the amount of water will vary. She calls for two cups, I used 1 1/2 and thought the dough "looked" right, but got freaked out that maybe it should be wetter. Any good gauges for wettness?

2) When you mix the dough and then frisage, is that the same as an autolyse?

3) Make a starter or just add yeast? This is the biggie. My understanding is that Danielle puts in the yeast into the dough then begins the 850 smacks against the counter to expedite the 1st fermentation: instead of a 12-hour rise, you now get a two-hour rise. Is this correct? In Sourdough Guy's video demonstration of the French Fold, he simply folds the dough once and it's ready for the first fermentation. However, I believe he creates a starter first then adds it to the dough. Is this correct? If so, do you add the starter after the autolyse/frisage and let it sit? for how long? The thing is, I did about 200 wallops on the dough before I freaked out my dog and had my wife telling me to find a new hobby.

4) Danielle smack the bubbles out of the dough after the 1st fermentation and the turn. Does that sound counterintuitive? It feels to me like this is the reason my crumb has such small bubbles.

5) I got a crust on my dough during the 1st fermenation. How do you prevent that? I had a towel over it, but it got a pretty serious crust anyway. This never happened when Martha told me to put plastic wrap on the dough.

OK, that's it for now. Thanks so much!

Floydm's picture

Hi JT,

Here's my shot at answering your questions:

1) Pretty wet. I'd urge you to push your luck a few times. It is amazing how much a slack dough will tighten up when you fold, but it takes going too far a few times to really learn where the limit is (those will taste good too, they'll just end up being more like a focaccia or ciabatta than a baguette). I've actually been dialing the hydration back a little bit, but I'd hit the point where my dough was almost like pancake batter and wouldn't hold its shape at all.

2) I think they are pretty similar, but Bill and Eric have a good discussion of frissage here. They know more about it than I do.

3) Honestly, there are so many "correct" different ways of doing it. I read Good Bread Is Back a while ago, and it amazed me how many different ways the boulangeries of Paris handle even the simple baguette. Again, try a few different techniques and find one you like. Most often, I still use the pain sur poolish I make a couple of years ago: 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, and a pinch of yeast as a poolish overnight followed by one or two 2 hour rises after I make my final dough. Simple and reliably good.

4) I try to fold instead of punch down now. I pop the big bubbles, but I think it is best not to completely degas the dough when folding or shaping if you want an irregular crumb.

5) Yeah, I always cover with plastic while it is rising. I don't like the skin I get when I don't. I typically put the whole sheet in a garbage bag and close it up.

Welcome to the site!

dmsnyder's picture

First, let me say I'm also struggling to make my first baguette with a crackly crust and open crumb, so I'm no authority on that, to say the least. 

But, I can address some of your other questions. 

These days, there are many styles of baguette. They differ in hydration level and technique.  

I've watched that Julia Child show too, but I've never tried the beat your dough into submission approach. As I understand it, the 850 smashes is to develop the gluten, and there are gentler ways of doing that, including regular kneading, machine kneading, French fold and others.  

Classic baguettes have, I think, about 65% hydration. There are other types, like the Pain a l'ancienne, which have higher hydration and, therefore, a more open crumb. However, at any given hydration level, how well you develop the gluten, a good bulk fermentation and how you handle the dough shaping the loaves will all impact the crumb. For that matter, so will the temperature you bake at, using a pizza stone and ensuring a humid baking environment at the start of the bake.

 Lots of variables to play with. 

The frisage  technique, as I understand it, is to make sure there are no lumps of unhydrated flour in the dough. Autolyse has this as one of its functions, but the long (20-60 minute) rest after mixing the flour and water but before adding the yeast and salt also lets the gluten start developing. As the flour develops and absorbs water before kneading, there is less temptation to add more flour than you should.  

Classic baguettes are made with added yeast, with or without a poolish or pate fermente. However, you can make sourdough baguettes, if you want. They are just a different bread, even though they share the baguette shape with the classic ones. 

I endorse Floyd's recommendation to enclose your rising bowl in a plastic bag. You can also cover air-tight in another manner. Oiling the bowl and rolling the dough around to coat it in a film of oil may also help prevent it from forming a crust. 

I hope this helps. 


leemid's picture

Hang in there, you will get there soon. Truth is there are many ways to make great bread. Yeast or starter? Sure. Both/either. Enjoy the different results. Whack it or fold it? Fold it. One of the things Carolyn from KA flours said that I think rings true: manipulation doesn't develop gluten. Hydrating flour develops gluten, manipulation organizes gluten. Hence, autolyse. I let my wetted paste sit for an hour before proceeding. Nothing but water and flour. Then I add my starter. If using yeast, the recipe determines the timing on including ingredients. Then I fold. Let it rest, fold it again. Repeat with the time you have to dedicate to it. It's witchcraft how the dough tightens and strengthens.

I can make to-die-for bread without much more than gentle folding, ever. I degas the big bubbles out but handle the dough gently to retain crumb structure. I love sourdough that is sour so I use a starter and process proven to produce it. But I am about to start making yeasted baguettes simply for the speed and the ease. I am now an addict for KAs sweet dough recipe, lovingly turned into cinnamon rolls. The batch I made yesterday are phenomenal. I will write the recipe up soon.

Bottom line is bread making does make you a better human being. Making too much so you have to give it away makes people love you.

Go out and bake.

That's my story,


JT's picture

Hey Everybody,

 I appreciate your input and your help tremendously. I have made notes and will apply some new techniques this weekend!

Floyd...I keep hearing that 65% hydration is the norm for baguettes, but your pain poolish recipe, I believe, is at the 50% level: 1 cup water and 1 cup flour in the poolish, 2 cups flour and a half-cup water in the dough. Is this correct?

Thanks again!

Floydm's picture

The 65% you hear about is the proportion by weight, not by volume. Typically people estimate a cup of flour at around 4.5 to 5 ounces, so... 3 cups flour is around 15 ounces, 1.5 cups of water is 12 ounces... 12 divided by 15... that is actually around 80% hydration. That sounds a bit high, for a baguette. I tend to use heaping cups that may weigh an extra half ounce to an ounce, so I think I typically come in closer to in the 65-70%. You can go wetter than that, but it gets pretty hard to handle.

KipperCat's picture

Hi JT. I loved reading your intro!  I often cover my dough with a kitchen towel, but always a damp one.  IF it's sitting for a few hours, I sometimes take the towel off and remoisten it.  I think this would be more difficult in a cold climate as the house air would probably be a lot drier.

Bmorse's picture


First the bad news: I'm sorry to tell you that your life will not be complete when you create that perfect baguette.  As soon as you do, you'll find yourself obsessed with making the perfect ciabetta, and the perfect sourdough boule, and the perfect bagels. The quest for the holy grail (or the holy grain) is endless.

Now the good news:  While your quest may never end, your going to have a lot of fun and eat a lot of great bread along the way.  To get started, based on the questions you asked, I would recommend rushing right out to your nearest book store or library and picking up a copy of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart.   The first 100 pages are a master's course in bread baking technique (at least, in one person's approach to bread baking techique - there are many). 

By the time you are done you will understand what autolyze does, how bakers calculate the ratios of ingredients, the effects of time and temperature on your bread, the different types of starters and why they are important, etc.

The rest of the book is dedicated to a great selection of recipes.  There are several baguette recipes.  I just received the book recently, so have only tried a few recipes, but one the Pain a l'ancienne, makes a baguette with a taste that is practically addictive.


Good luck.