Genius Recipes

Dan Leader's 4-Hour Baguette

By • March 26, 2014 • 166 Comments

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!

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (166)

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

Comments (166)

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10 days 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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14 days 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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3 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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4 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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4 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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4 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.

Christinaconte_5535fw

4 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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4 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?

Christinaconte_5535fw

4 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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4 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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4 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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4 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.

Missycat

4 months ago Carol Higgins

Hi Paul,

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

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4 months ago sarak

Strong white flour is bread flour.

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4 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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4 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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4 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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4 days 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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5 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?

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5 months ago Louisa

I followed the recipe exactly and the bread came out fine, however, it didn't look nearly as beautiful as the photo. I wondered if that bread had an egg wash. The taste was ok for white bread. I'm going to try semolina flour next time.

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5 months ago Sharon

I'm no lazy chef, but I learned LONG ago to leave baguettes to the professional bakers. Frankly, no one does it better. At best, you'll end up with an okay-tasting loaf of bread, but nowhere NEAR anything you can buy. I'm happy to stop and pick one up at my local store or boulangerie, just like the wise French do. That way I can focus all of my attention and energy on the exquisite meal I'm preparing...while munching on a baguette! Face it, some things just can't be beat or improved upon.

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4 days ago Kt4

Did you try this recipe and directions without success, or are you just making a general comment?

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3 days ago Sharon

I have tried many baguette recipes and I wouldn't call any of them unsuccessful. But, none of them have been as good, and certainly none have been better than what can be bought from a good bakery. That is not the case with all bread, but I've found it to be true of baguettes. I do not buy loaves of sliced bread. Baguettes are the only bread eaten in my household. I got accustomed to this growing up on the superb sour dough French bread in my native San Francisco, and it was reinforced after living many years in Paris, France. Consequently, I thought it would be a good idea to experiment with baking my own. I always got an okay product, but I became acutely aware that true success is more likely rooted in an ancient starter dough, blazing, time-seasoned ovens and some well-kept secret! The whole idea of homemade products is that they are generally superior in taste and quality to store bought. But some things are just better left to centuries of wisdom and professional know-how. Even the French don't make baguettes at home. Baking them just for the fun of it can be a rewarding experience, but I suspect there's more to an authentic baguette than will ever be revealed in a printed recipe.

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5 months ago LittleStar

I'm French and I made the baguettes with my Japanese friend ( surrounded by 3 excited toddlers ;-) . I decided to put the ingredients in my bread machine so we could chat over coffee but after 30mn it was wayyy too liquid. We thought we had the cups and ounces wrong so spent 5 mns frenetically calculating on our phones, and it took 70grs+70grs to get a "hold together nicely enough dough". I guess I put way too much (Himalayan ) salt - didn't read the comments before salting "de bon cœur" the dough.
Then my friend did all the kneading-
It took us 4 hours as stated but we weren't entirely sure of how risen rise is ( does it make sense?!) so we just followed our stomachs ( they were hungry).
The loaves once cooked are far from being as beautiful as the ones pictured above, and they were very dense (and salty) but tasty.
To be honest, I wouldn't make this recipe again and let alone by myself. It was a lovely moment to share with a lovely friend and we were so proud of how crispy the crust turned out. I don't leave in France so I jump on any post promising the keys to the bread's paradise...
The pictures are nice and the step by step well done, so thank you for posting!

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4 days ago Kt4

I wonder if using a bread machine thus skipping the 20 minute hydration pause caused the huge difference. Perhaps try again without altering the directions? Is be curious if that makes a difference ☺

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5 months ago arlene

One day label reading I noticed on Kosher salt the Morton has a chemical added. The Crystal Diamond does not. Can this change the
flavor of the Baguette or the way it rises?

Christinaconte_5535fw

5 months ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

Chef John from Food Wishes wrote this on his no-knead pizza dough recipe, "if possible, use bottled water as chlorinated water can retard the yeast growth" so I would guess that added chemicals can affect the yeast growth. I will also add that I personally don't like the Morton Kosher salt (only tried it once and never again). I avoid chemicals in my foods as much as possible anyway...why does salt need chemicals?

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5 months ago Marjorie

I made this in my food processor (can't knead, because of injury)! It was a sticky mess!! No substance at all. I added a little more flour just till it had a little shape. Waiting for it to rise. Do u think I should continue or just throw it away and try again?

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5 months ago May

Ooh - stick it in the fridge in a bowl or tub and cover for a few hours to settle down, and then scoop it out and shape it roughly in whatever amoebic shape it fancies on a large cookie sheet (on greaseproof paper makes it easier to lift off later), and bake it according to the instructions, and you'll still have a delicious (salty?!!?!!) big floppity bread!

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5 months ago JoanMyers

My daughter and I made these yesterday and resisted eating all three loaves! Incredibly fun and rewarding to make our own baguettes and then we enjoyed the rave reviews from family and friends! To note, we followed directions explicitly, including the salt quantity, and the loaves are beyond delicious!

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

I notice there are a lot of comments on how salty the bread was. Has the person who posted the recipe replied to any of this?

Christinaconte_5535fw

5 months ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

Yes, Carol, she responded to my comment and we discussed the weight vs. volume of the salt as I had said that 4 tsps of Kosher salt is about twice the amount I use in my bread. However, when we weighed our level teaspoonfuls, the weight was different, so it's a bit of a dilemma. If you go back through the thread, you will see the comments.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Thanks. Every time I make a comment or ask a question in food52, I get every single other comment emailed to me so sometimes I don't have time to read them all. I would like to try it but I don't like plain white bread and someone told me you have to put gluten in whole wheat or multigrain or other types of flour so I have to figure out where on earth in my city I can find it; certainly not in my local grocery stores. Maybe in a health food store or upscale grocery store. I'm going to wait until we actually get some spring weather.........

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5 months ago savorthis

I made this again yesterday and referred to the original recipe in Saveur which calls for 1 1/2 t. I too weighed the salt (I was using Morton's kosher) and came up with just shy of 2 teaspoons. I thought it was just right with that amount.

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5 months ago May

Carol - I rolled mine out in a handful of porage oats one time, and the next I used "Bob's Red Mill 5 grain rolled hot cereal," (wheat, rye, barley, triticale and flaxseed), and it was delicious with that extra bite and flavour, so you could simply stir some in, or whizz it in the blender first if you want something a bit more floury.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Thanks May, I will try that.

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5 months ago walrusgumbo

the baguettes came out amazing except for one thing... salt content. i would reduce the measurement to 1 or 2 t of kosher salt. i will make again!

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5 months ago Meg

Started my Sunday morning with your baguette recipe...just now pulled the finished loaves out of the oven and they are amazing. Followed your perfectly written instructions step by step. I am no stranger to bread making...so I must admit I enjoyed the 10 minutes of hand kneading. Lol...thanks for a great recipe. Never thought I could get a crispy crust like that in my oven at home.

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5 months ago LizzieB

Second batch today. Original recipe was gone in minutes for our 3 people household. Second batch getting oven ready now. Doubled the batch hoping for Sunday morning bread. What a wonderful recipe, love the step by step pictures and instructions. Thank you!!!! Celebrating eat -what- you- like- Saturday,organic whole wheat, gmo free, chemical and unpronoucables free. Yumm!

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5 months ago LizzieB

O Wow.. French toast with this to die for. Also made "bread with an egg in the middle" O happy Sunday to you all!

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5 months ago LizzieB

Second double batch had to be amended since I ran out of regular flour with 1.5 cups of self rising flour. Nice volume. I like! Salt was good at 2 tsp.