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Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and work together with your hands or a wooden spoon. It will seem very wet at first, then very dry, but in the end it will form a very moist, sticky dough.
Knead dough well for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a bowl to rise, about 1-1.5 hours. When dough is doubled in size, transfer to a clean surface. Dough should still be very sticky. Dust with a little flour, being careful not to add so much to change the texture of the dough.
Preheat oven to 250C (or as high as oven will go). Line a large baking tray (that will fit four baguettes, or two smaller trays that will fit two baguettes each) with baking paper and dust with a little flour. Place a large casserole or oven-proof dish half filled with water in the bottom of the oven.
Divide dough into four pieces, roughly the same size. Take one portion and gently roll it into a baguette shape – checking it will fit your oven and baking tray. Repeat with remaining four pieces of dough. Cover with four-dusted plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-1.5 hours.
Use a very sharp knife, razor or scissors to cut 4-5 slashes in each baguette. Use a spray bottle filled with water to lightly spray the baguettes all over. Place baguettes in oven and cook about 15 minutes, until baguettes are well-browned. Reduce oven temperature to 200C and cook another 5-10 minutes.
Transfer baguettes to a cooling rack and leave until completely cool before slicing.
To make the perfect French-style baguette, the best flour to use is “Type 55”. If this is not available, use half plain flour, half strong “Type 00” flour. Using either plain flour or strong “00” works very well too, however Paul prefers plain all-purpose flour of the two for baguettes as it gives the bread an external crackle that works well with baguettes.
Dust both the baking paper and plastic wrap with a little flour to ensure they don’t stick to your rising baguettes.
The water in the oven helps form the crust of the dough. It’s a cheat’s way to create a steam oven, perfect for making crusty, crackling baguettes.
To give the bread a stronger crust, spray the baguettes again after 5-6 minutes of cooking, and then again at 10-12 minutes.
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