Genius Recipes

Dan Leader's 4-Hour Baguette

By • March 26, 2014 • 178 Comments

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: You can make baguettes at home -- in 4 hours, from nothing -- and they'll disappear faster than your favorite bakery's. 

Raise your hand if you've always wanted to get into the rhythm of baking your own bread. Now raise your hand if you've actually done it. 

Too many of us have hesitated, then let the thought slip away. We froze at the technical abyss of caring for a sourdough starter, couldn't commit to consecutive days of planning and tending. We don't know what we're making for dinner tonight, let alone in three days. (But one day we swear this will all come naturally, just as soon as we've got that wood-burning oven and proofing cabinet.)

Right. This recipe is the aggressive, no-more-excuses shove that we need.

It comes from Dan Leader, founder of Bread Alone, via William Alexander's IACP-award winning Saveur Magazine story on American Bread. Leader developed the recipe to fit in home cooks' ovens and nestle into their schedules, with ingredients and equipment they've got nearby -- but he told me, "If I had to make it at Bread Alone, I'd make this recipe."

If I can make a really good baguette -- in 4 hours, from nothing -- you can too. It will have a resilient, toffee-colored crust and a honeycombed middle that huffs hot, yeasty air when you tear into it. The smell of it baking will simultaneously make you feel hungry, safe, and accomplished. It will taste like home and like Paris. It might have arrhythmic slashes across the top -- some would call them unprofessional; I call them spunky. (If you want to look like a pro, buy a nice lame.)

And it will only take you 4 hours of intermittent attention, and won't require a starter nor any equipment you don't already own. You have an oven, baking sheets, an ice cube tray, a skillet, parchment, and a pair of scissors, right? (Don't you love quizzes like this?) I'd bet you also have salt, flour, and water, probably even active dry yeast. (If not, the closest corner store does.) 

"There are times when I plan out a menu only to realize I forgot to buy a baguette or two and can make this quick." Food52er Ashley Marie told me. "In addition, I find they're fun for when I want bragging rights for guests ('Why yes, these are really HOMEMADE baguettes I made fresh today')."

Here's how to do it -- as Leader says, "bread baking is more wait than work."

  

Stir together yeast and warm water. 10 minutes later, stir in flour.

  

  

Let that hang out for 20 minutes to hydrate.

  

Now add salt and knead for about 10 minutes, till it's smooth and springy. You could do this in a stand mixer with a dough hook -- or food processor, which Alexander prefers -- but I think a good knead is better than an hour of psychotherapy, and it's free. 

  

Plop it in a greased bowl, seal it with plastic, and park it in a cold oven (or microwave) for about 45 minutes. Its girth will double.

  

Fold it like a T-shirt, then put it back. Within an hour, it will double again.

  

  

Now roll it into three baguette-like tubes. Don't use much flour -- a little sticking will help keep them from sliding around.

Line your tubes up on a floured piece of parchment, then scoot them together with parchment poking up between each tube of dough. Stick rolled towels on each side as ramparts, so the baguettes rise up, not outward in their last stint.

 

While they double again, heat your oven to 475° F, with a baking stone (or rimless or upside-down baking sheet) in the middle and a cast iron skillet in the bottom (you'll see why soon).

Once the baguettes are puffed and the oven is scorching, slash the tops with your fancy lame, or just snip them with scissors -- a trick I learned from our Test Kitchen Assistant, Erin McDowell. A knife that isn't razor sharp won't help you here.

Now this is the only part that takes coordination -- pull out your middle oven rack, confidently slide the parchment with loaves onto the stone (or faux-stone), then tuck the rack back in and pour ice cubes into your hot skillet. Shut the oven and walk away. Set a timer for 20 minutes. This steam will help the loaves finish rising before the crust forms. 

  

And what a crust it will be. Four hours ago, this was still flour in a bin and yeast in a packet. You brought it to life, with the hands you have, the bread experience you don't. And you'll do it again soon.

Dan Leader's 4-Hour Baguette

Adapted slightly from Local Breads (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007) and Saveur Magazine

Makes 3 baguettes

1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) tap water, heated to 115° F
1 teaspoon (1/8 ounces) active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups (14 2/3 ounces) all–purpose flour
3 teaspoons (3/8 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
1/2 cup ice cubes

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected] Thanks to Food52 community member Ashley Marie for this one!

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (178)

Tags: baguette, bread, baking, french bread, yeast, proofing, dan leader, genius, how-to & diy

Comments (178)

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2 days ago Tina

Hey my bread turned out nice too the second time. I had to change the oven temperature to 425 instead 475.

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2 days ago Cheryl Wilton

The bread was great! I was worried because yes, it is a sticky, sticky dough. I measured by weight, used bread flour and regular active dry yeast, proofed. I kept the parchment pleateded up between the loaves during baking because the bread didn't have much structure to hold its shape and it turned out great.: a little tang, great crust and nice airy loaves although not terribly big. I really think refining the recipe to include weight by grams would help more folks have better success. Also, it's REALLY important to let that oven preheat for the entire last 50 min rise. Mine didn't hold the cuts but the crust looked just like the photo. Really enjoyed it with dinner!

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2 days ago Kellie

Cheryl..........nice last name for baking. :)

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2 days ago Kellie

Todd Fitzgerald......always use a quick-read thermometer to judge the temperature of your water. Don't try to guess. You'd be surprised how off you actually are.

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2 days ago Cheryl Wilton

I love to bake bread. This intrigued me. I just now have my flour hydrating - and yes you should ALWAYS do this as well as "proofing" your yeast (which I did). After reading the recipe and comments and as I am just getting started I wish that the recipe was in grams rather that/as well as ounces, although ounces are far better than 'cups" and "tsp" because there is much variety amongst manufacturers. It is a much more accurate way to measure and any good scale offers grams.

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16 days ago Kelly

Thanks for this recipe, I thought it was pretty good. My partner often makes bread, but this was my first time. Just wondering though how long I am supposed to let it rise for after shaping the baguettes and setting them up between the towels (before baking)? I live on a sailboat, so didn't have any ice, and my gas oven doesn't heat very well but they still turned out ok. I just had to cook them for about an hour (yep, the oven is that bad) and the crust didn't go very brown at all. Taste good though, and I don't think too salty at all and I used 3tsp of Himalayan salt. Will definitely make them again, however would love to know if there's another method I can use that doesn't involve ice?

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20 days ago peg denton

I had given up -- no yeast infused flour and water concoction could ever create a loaf as good as one I could buy at the grocery. And then you posted this recipe. The crust is as close to New Orleans french bread as I have ever been able to make. My husband and I have filled our freezer with these because after putting them back in the oven the crust gets even crispier! Every time someone visits, my husband gets out a couple of loaves of bread -- one for us to enjoy with them, and the other for them to take home. This bread is absolutely wonderful!

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3 months ago Jennifer

I followed the directions more or less to the letter - the main exceptions being that I used a combination of whole wheat bread flour and regular all purpose flour, and, because my dough was exceedingly sticky - I used my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook to knead, I definitely had to add a fairly significant amount of flour in order for it to lose the stickiness. All in all, the baguettes turned out perfectly. Very happy, will make again.

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5 months ago Todd Fitzgerald

Just made this. Wow. Best bread I've ever made. I think my water was too hot for the yeast, as they didn't rise as much as in the pictures. Will definitely do again, there may not be any left for the wife to try...

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5 months ago enrique reveles

Too salty, too dense...

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5 months ago Ann

Correct! We adapted the recipe, less salt, and added more time to rise... concluded there is no such thing as a 4-hour baguette!

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6 months ago Kellie

Exactly the same problem that I had, Nicole. The only thing that I have tried is misting the loaves with water while baking but that really seemed to do very little. Next time I will try an increase in oven temp but after that, I'm just not sure. Mine had superb flavor both times but I really wanted that beautiful color also. Let me know if you have any luck.

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6 months ago Nicole Otis

I made this recipe last night and while the bread looks fine on the bottom (golden and pretty,) the top looks like a non-shiny brown. Not nearly as pretty as the pictures. Any ideas on what might have gone wrong?

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8 months ago Rob

Just got around to trying this recipe and the result was Great! I used bread flour and 1.5 tsp of salt. Taste was great, color was spot on and crunchy crust was perfect. Dough was a bit sticky to start with, but a little extra flour on the counter top took care of it. First time I've made baguettes, won't be the last, thanks for the recipe and detailed instructions.

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9 months ago Cocobomb

Hello all! I was curious if someone in the know out there could tell me 1) if this can be made using whole wheat flour? and 2) what changes would need to be made? Thank you!

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9 months ago Kellie

Any bread recipe that I've seen using whole wheat flour always has a percentage of regular flour and sometimes a third flour. So apparently it may not be possible by just using 100% whole wheat flour. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.

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9 months ago Kellie

I made these the other day and they were absolutely delicious! The only thing that was a bit disappointing was the color on top. They weren't that beautiful brown like the picture. I was wondering if using a spray bottle to spritz the loaves while baking would help. Does anybody know? Plus, why are so many people saying 4 tsp. of salt when the recipe calls for 3? Just wondering.

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9 months ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

@Kellie: the recipe was edited because so many people were complaining about it being too salty. @Cocobomb, I don't know what changes would need to be made, but there definitely would have to be adaptations if you used whole wheat; hopefully someone else will reply.

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9 months ago Kellie

Thanks Christina and can you tell me how to get that gorgeous color on top of the loaves that perhaps isn't mentioned in the recipe?

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9 months ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

Kellie, whenever I have something that doesn't brown as I'd like it to, I move it higher up in the oven and/or raise the temperature. Keep a close eye on it as sometimes if you do both, it can brown very quickly. Good luck!

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9 months ago Kellie

Thanks again Christina. I'm working with a gas oven so I'm not sure that would help but I'll do some tinkering and I'll post the results because these baguettes are so worth it!

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10 months ago sarak

I can't wait to try this out. Bread is so simple, but could be the most delicious meal ever.

I've made bread so many times and it's a labor of love. Sometimes the process could be a bit frustrating - dough too wet, too dry, etc - but the end result was far tastier than most breads you buy in stores.

Just a few weeks ago, I made the no-knead ciabatta in a $30 dutch oven and you would have thought I was nuts by how excited I was when I took it out and the bread sang for a good 15 minutes. It was beautiful!

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10 months ago Paul H

This recipe is actually way more complicated than it needs to be. You do not need to heat up the water, not at all. Straight out of the tap is fine. I don't hydrate the dough or anything like that and my baguettes are look way better.
Here is a recipe I use
(I use the metric system so if you are offended look away now)
500g of strong white flour
10g of salt - table salt is fine (people worry too much, but put fancy salt in if you prefer)
10g of instant yeast (i prefer using fresh but when I bake bread isn't normally planned)put salt one side and yeast the other.
350-370g of water (i prefer a wet dough, it takes more work/kneading to get to a handleable* dough but the results are better)

*yes i just made that word up

The shaping of a baguette is a little more important than make a sausage shape - buy a book called Dough by Richard Bertinett it has the steps laid out fairly well.
Bread isn't difficult, like most things though the more effort and practise you put into things the better the result.

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10 months ago Carol Higgins

Hi Paul,

What do you mean by "strong" white flour? Do you have a multigrain option?

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10 months ago sarak

Strong white flour is bread flour.

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10 months ago Harper

I made this recipe this past weekend, followed the directions exactly as written (except at the end, I had to bake longer for golden crust in my oven) and they came out great. I had to give them away, don't need to eat all three, but I could have. Thanks for posting. Passing recipe on to others.

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10 months ago Cuvee

I have tried french breads in the past and the dough has always been sooo sticky that I couldn't knead it. I see that others have had the same problem. And the same tasteless results when more flour is added. I watched the u-yube video (thanks for sharing) and your photos. Mine looks like yours out of the bowl but never like yours while kneading. Any suggestions?

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10 months ago sarak

Just keep kneading and it will come together. It will be very sticky at first, but don't let that discourage you. The best thing to use is a plastic dough scraper - it's that white thing used to scrape the dough out of the bowl. With the very wet dough still in the bowl, fold the dough continuously using the scraper - maybe 2-3 minutes. This will strengthen the dough, keep it off your fingers and make it less sticky and easier to knead by hand.

Even if you feel all the dough is stuck to your fingers, just keep kneading. A few minutes later, the dough will not be as sticky.

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5 months ago Kt4

Sarak, thank you for the extra info. I've often had the same problem and couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Time to try again! :)

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10 months ago Karen

When you are waiting for the yeast to foam up, is it just a pool of foam in the center or the whole top of the water?