The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Shaping a baguette

BlueDevil0206's picture

Shaping a baguette

Hello, I'm quite new to bread baking.  I have made a few good whole wheat loaves with nuts and whole grains added and they all were bricks (but tasted good).  I realized I wasn't kneading well and therefore was not getting very good gluten formation so the texture was horrible.  Anyways, while I like whole grain bread for the health aspect, I've somewhat come to the realization after some research that I won't get that incredible chewiness and holey texture of french bread with 100% whole wheat.

 So in my first couple attempts using Red's Mill unbleached bread flour with just a little whole wheat to make baguettes, they turned out great in texture and taste, but it was impossible to shape them into baguettes.  They turned out to be more like deformed batards.  The crust was nice and the crumb was chewy but I didn't have very many holes.  The first time I think I over kneaded the dough and it was WAY too elastic so it was hard to form the baguettes.  The next time I tried to make a wetter dough as well as limit kneading and doing a lot longer rise but while the dough was a lot softer and easier to shape, I still couldn't get long thin baguettes.

I won't lie, I've been somewhat improvising the recipes (for a given amount of water, add flour utill the dough cleans the sides of my kitchenaid) so that may be it, but it is the shaping step that has been giving me the most trouble.


Any help is greaty appreciated.



pseudobaker's picture

I've been having good results by using the baguette shaping method Maggie Glazer outlines in her book, Artisan Baking across America.  I won't type it out for you here (would take too long), but she goes into great detail how to shape a baguette - it's one of the most difficult shapes to achieve, apparently.  The Acme baguette recipe at the beginning of the book is yummy, too.

 If you don't want to buy the book, it's probably in your library.  Great book!

breadnerd's picture

If your dough is too elastic when shaping baguettes, let it rest 10-15 minutes and continue shaping. I would also bench it (let it rest after dividing) for a good 15-20 minutes before shaping. These rest periods help the gluten to relax. You can even shape the baguetter, let it relax, and then shape again--press it flat, fold it over again (or roll, depending on your preferred technique). I find if you do a second shaping it will often double in length if the dough is good and relaxed. Then a few gentle rolls on the bench will pull it out to full length.


One tip I learned in a class for shaping too: for softer/wetter doughs, do a loose pre-shape before benching, and match the pre-shape to the final loaf shape. For example, for a boule, I'll pre-shape into a loose ball, but for baguettes I make a longer rectangular envelope shape. That way it's already on the way to the final shape while it's resting.


Hope this makes sense!


- breadnerd

Kate's picture

I have very limited experience with breads high in whole wheat but I made a fantastically light and tasty whole wheat sandwich loaf straight out of Nancy Silverton's Breads From La Brea Bakery book, and I know that JMonkey on this site bakes a lot of whole wheat and all his loaves look beautiful, so I'd pay attention to what he says. Some day his posts are going to inspire me to make more whole wheat. =)

JMonkey's picture

Thanks Kate, though I'd hasten to add that I'm far from an expert on whole wheat bread or bread baking, period. I've only been baking for a year, and most of my experience has been in making enriched whole wheat sandwich breads, which are a lot easier to bake than lean, whole wheat hearth breads. I've only just begun to have some success making tasty French-style 100% whole wheat loaves, and I've still got a lot to learn.

For instance, I'd never seen a crumb as open as Tom's breads, and his technique sounds really innovative. I can't wait to try it.

But if my posts have inspired people to try baking whole wheat breads, well, that makes me a happy guy. It really is both tasty and nutritious. (And stop calling me Mikey.)

Ok, so BlueDevil0206. Your questions (btw, I'm a Demon Deacon, myself.)

I have made a few good whole wheat loaves with nuts and whole grains added and they all were bricks (but tasted good). I realized I wasn't kneading well and therefore was not getting very good gluten formation so the texture was horrible. Anyways, while I like whole grain bread for the health aspect, I've somewhat come to the realization after some research that I won't get that incredible chewiness and holey texture of french bread with 100% whole wheat.

While it's true that you won't get the super-open crumb that's possible from white flour, that doesn't mean that you can't make light bread. Take a look at Tom's bread above, for example, or the half whole wheat ciabatta I made a few months back. Really, it's just a question of technique -- whole wheat is a different beast from white flour. Here's a few general guidelines.

  • Use more water:The bran and the germ in whole wheat flour absorb quite a bit of water, so you'll need to use significantly more to get the right texture for light bread. White French bread, for example, is usually at about 60-67% hydration and the super-wet rustic doughs that make ciabatta go from 68% to as high as 80%. With whole wheat sandwich bread, I start at 75% hydration and Tom for his hearth bread went to 85%.
  • Work harder to develop the gluten.The bran in whole wheat flour cuts the gluten strands, resulting in a smaller loaf. Nevertheless, there are ways to combat this. You can do very long fermentations or pre-soak the flour (with a bit of salt to control the ensymes) to allow the bran to soften. I've done variations on this, though not exactly like Tom did (and I plan to try it!). You can also just knead the heck out of it. The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, which right now is (IMHO) the best whole wheat bread baking book out there, recommends kneading about 300 strokes per loaf. So for a typical 2 loaf recipe, that's 600 strokes or about 20 minutes of kneading.
  • Add butter, eggs or milk: These additions won't help you make French-style lean breads, but they will greatly help the rise of your sandwich breads. Using about 1 Tbs butter or 2 Tbs oil per loaf, replacing at least half of the liquid with milk or buttermilk, and adding an egg can all strengthen the gluten network and result in a much lighter loaf of bread. To the right are two loaves of Laurel's Featherpuff bread, which uses cottage cheese, milk and eggs (maybe butter, too -- I can't remember). It's crazy high and light.

All other tips of good baking apply and will also help. For instance, try to avoid completely degassing the dough when you shape. An iron hand in a velvet glove, or so the saying goes. Ensure you've got plenty of surface tension. Etc., etc.

Anyway, I hope these help!
JMonkey's picture

... use good flour. Because of the oily germ, whole wheat flour goes rancid after a while and different brands of flour perform very differently. For instance, I've been unimpressed (and others have shared this sentiment) with the Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour, but have had great results from the whole wheat flour made by King Arthur Flour. So if you're having poor whole wheat performance, you might want to try another brand, and see how that does.

Luber's picture

Not to point out the obvious...but he said he's a beginner: good whole wheat flour for bread also means it's high-protein flour milled from hard wheat. Make sure you're not getting a soft wheat pastry or all-purpose whole wheat flour, which is what is often found in bulk bins at the supermarket. Don't know about Bob's...but if it doesn't say what it is or the protein content I'd be suspicious.


I use King Arthur's "Traditional Whole Wheat" which is 14.2% protein. I like their White Whole Wheat too, at 13%. Both of them would be considered "high-gluten" flours if they were fully refined; as JMonkey says, oil and bran destroy some gluten potential.


Supermarket nutritional labelling as allowed by the FDA is pretty loose - they round everything to the nearest whole number. For example, KA "all-purpose" flour, which makes great bread at 11.5% protein, shows the protein as 4 g per 30g serving, but 11.5% is actually 3.45 g, which to one decimal place is 3.5, which to a whole number is 4.


Real bakers will demand a real spec from their miller; although not all of the protein is available as gluten, a couple of percent can make a big difference. KA lists them all on its website, as does Giusto's. Bob's makes two whole wheat flours, one designated pastry, the other "WW flour" at 3g and 4g protein per serving. Haven't tried Bob's anything for baking, anyway I'm lucky - my supermarket has a great bulk section that carries Giusto's flour.


So, baguettes: definitely get Glezer's book. She recommends a "high-extraction" wheat flour, which is something like 85% or so of the whole wheat berry (not a blend of flour, it's the way it's milled, she has a fascinating section on that too), it's more yellow than white or brown. This is probably hard to find at a supermarket, Giusto's makes an "artisan" flour which is pretty good, you can order it direct from them - you can also try a KA specialty flour from their website - although what they call baguette flour is pretty white (medium protein, high-ash they say). You might like the Columbia bread recipe from Glazer, which uses a white/WW flour blend, see here for a nice write-up someone did.


I shape them in four steps: first rise in the bowl, knock down and make balls. Second rise, knock down and fold L&R ends over then roll up to make a loaf. Normally I would let this rise again and then bake; for baguettes I knock the loaf down, and roll it up again in three stages, at each step hitting the roll down with the heel of my hand, similar to what you would normally do at the very end of a roll, This makes it really tight and elongates the roll. Then a final rise, they fall a lot when slashed but get great oven spring since it's a wet dough and the gluten is so structured.


Have fun! -Dave

BlueDevil0206's picture

Wow, thanks for all of the replies.  I will eventually take into consideration everything that has been said.

My aunt (who got me into bread baking) says I really need to get a scale and actually measure things rather than just improvising,  I'm sure she's right.

Cooky's picture

I am completely with you on the shaping problem. It's still my biggest problem, though I am getting better with practice.

For baguettes, the most helpful instruction I found was a video on the Julia Child lessons site (

 Click on the video tag, and on the search page look in the chef section for Danielle Forestier. She has a two-part lesson on traditional French bread. The second includes her shaping technique, which I have used as a model and found very helpful -- even though my dough usually doesn't have the same texture as hers. After a few really clumsy starting attempts, I'm starting to get the hang of it --- and baguettes that almost look like the real thing.



"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

Bred Maverick's picture
Bred Maverick

Thanks for posting the link.  What a clever way to stretch and pull the dough - 3:00 and 9:00 o'clock simultaneously, then 12:00 and 6:00.  I've also read about, but never quite figured out, how to use a linen towel and then slide the loaves into my oven. 

As far as shaping goes, I wish I had it on DVD or VHS so I could follow along. I bought a Ciril Hitz DVD and watched how he shaped a baguette.  I had no success duplicating his skills.

andrew_l's picture

What a fantastic demo! I loved the way she added the yeast and the salt - and after all that kneading, it really did look almost alive! It's a method I'll have to try - but I'll never count up to 850!!!!
Thanks for the link.

expatCanuck's picture

I just finished shaping loaves for Dan Leader's Levain Baguette recipe in Bread Alone.

Got to the shaping -- no pictures, no illustrations.

The video was enormously helpful ... got me to these:


- Richard

KipperCat's picture

Great looking loaves!