Genius Recipes

Dan Leader's 4-Hour Baguette

By • March 26, 2014 • 189 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 (189)

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

Comments (189)

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6 days ago celia younger

I always heard that you never mix salt with yeast... salt kills yeast. Is that true?

Stringio

5 days ago Keith Wright

Salt controls the fermentation of the yeast. Too much will kill it. You merely want to inhibit the rise.

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5 days ago Sharon

Yes, it's absolutely true. Yeast feeds on sugar. If you introduce salt too early in the process it will definitely kill the yeast. Middle school science class experiment proved this.

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6 days ago Gary

Most bread recipes have you adding yeast last as it impedes the action of the yeast. But, I wouldn't think it would stop all action if added first. Perhaps the water was too hot, the yeast old or a combination of all three things. Hard to say.

Stringio

5 days ago Keith Wright

Saf-Instant doesn't require proofing. You can add it in the beginning. I've used it for 30 years.

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6 days ago Mike

I messed up somehow, could not get to rise not sure what I did wrong. Water temp to high for active yeast? Adding salt in first step not second step? No rise at all I think the yeast, any ideas.

Stringio

8 days ago Keith Wright

I skip the ice cubes. You lose too much heat in the jump. I have a Scünci steamer. I simply remove the burner and drip pan from the right rear of my stove top, aim the nozzle into the vent immediately after closing the door and hit the trigger for 15 seconds. You will love the golden brown color you get and enjoy the sound of the crust cracklin'.

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9 days ago celia younger

I THINK THEY sell mold specifically for this type of bread. it's curved to hold it in shpe.

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about 1 month ago giorgitd

This was my first attempt at baking bread. The result: crust excellent top and bottom, color very good - but the crumb... I prefer a very airy, full-of-holes baguette. This one wasn't super dense, but had mostly small holes. What adjustments should I make for a more airy loaf? More yeast? Longer 2nd rise (it was certainly doubled)? Something else?

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9 days ago Julie

Seems to me like the most important things to do to create bigger holes in the crumb are 1) make sure the dough has enough water in it to be slightly sticky, 2) judge the final shaped rise perfectly - this takes practice with the poke test, and 3) steam in the oven during the first half of baking time.

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about 1 month ago Joan Stickles

Made these today. Followed the directions to a T. They were beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious.

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2 months 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 months 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 months ago Kellie

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

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2 months 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 months 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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2 months 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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3 months 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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5 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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7 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...

Stringio

7 months ago enrique reveles

Too salty, too dense...

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7 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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8 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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8 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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10 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.