If you’re like me, you’ve often thought that homemade bread is something only the most sophisticated cooks can pull off. Oh how wrong we’ve been, and I couldn’t be happier to share this recipe with you! It is full-proof. And since few things bug me more than fussy, over-complicated recipes that feel unattainable, this one’s the opposite of that, and only requires ingredients most of us already have in our pantry. By the second or third time you make this, it’s going to feel so easy.
My inspiration/baseline was this online recipe. But I made some important changes to it that I think simplify things and deliver and even better texture and flavor. I also broke it down with lots (and lots) of pictures.
A note on warm water: Basically you run the hot water on the tap for a few seconds, but it doesn’t hurt your fingers to touch it. Not hot enough to cook anything, but definitely more than lukewarm.
Start by dissolving 1 tablespoon of sugar into 1 cup of warm water. After the sugar, quickly and gently stir in 1½ teaspoons of active dry yeast. Place in a warm place for at least 10 minutes. I often use my radiator when it’s nice and warm, or the top of the stove, with the oven underneath it preheated to 200.
While that sits, mix together 2½ cups of all purpose flour with 1½ to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt (only 1 teaspoon or less if using fine table salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.
When the warm water with sugar and yeast mixture starts to look like a funky, frothy science experiment –that’s exactly what it is!– and to smell a little bit like a brewery, you know you’re in business.
Frothy and bubbling less than 10 minutes later. This part is so much fun.
Start running the mixer on medium speed, and add in the water with yeast. Try to scrape every bit from the measuring cup into the mixer.
At this point, I always have flour nearby for sprinkling, and I refill the “yeasty” measuring cup with warm water. I mix for about 30 seconds. If A) the dough still looks too crumbly and isn’t coming together and off the sides of the bowl, I add additional warm yeasty water from the measuring cup, about 1 teaspoon at a time, then wait another few seconds.
My dough was looking crumbly and dry, so slowly I added 1 tsp at a time of the warm yeasty water. Works every time.
If on the other hand, B) the dough looks too wet, I sprinkle very small handfuls (also about a teaspoon) of flour at a time. I usually run into A more than B. My point is, if the dough doesn’t look like it’s coming together like it’s supposed to, it’s still very fixable if you go slowly and watch it carefully. Just don’t panic!
Once you see the dough come together and off the sides of the bowl, continue to knead with the mixer on medium or medium high speed for about 5 minutes. (Make sure the tilt head on your mixer is locked, otherwise the dough will make it wobble and shake and it won’t knead properly.)
This is what you want your dough to look like, then you let the mixer do the kneading for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a large flat rolling surface with flour, and a medium-sized bowl (it should hold at least eight cups) with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to coat the bottom and sides.
After 5 minutes, turn off the mixer. Coat your hands with flour, and remove the dough onto the floured surface.
See how sticky that is? You’ll need flour to unstick it from the dough hook.
Knead with your hands* a few times until it looks and feels soft and smooth. It can look like a disk or a ball. (*This just means you fold it onto itself and push down with the heel of your hand.)
Place into the bowl with oil, turning over once or twice to make sure the dough is evenly coated in the oil. This prevents an awkward crust from forming as it sits and rises.
Now it’s covered in oil.
Immediately cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and place in warm, draft-free place until it’s roughly doubled in size, at least an hour, up to 2 hours.
Again, putting the dough on top of an oven preheated to 200 works really well.
After an hour and a half, I was good to go!
Now you’re ready to prepare the dough for its second rising. 🙂
Uncover the bowl and take dough out. Don’t be alarmed when it deflates the instant you touch it. It’s supposed to do that.
‘Punch down your dough’ is the bread bakers’ equivalent of the literary ‘kill your darlings!’
In fact, many recipes for bread and pizza dough will specifically tell you to “punch down the dough” at this point in the process. Place on floured surface again, and smooth out a little with well floured hands.
Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out thinly, to about the size of a standard half sheet pan, about 13 x 18 inches. Cut the dough in half, lengthwise, until you’re left with two roughly 6 x 18 pieces.
Begin to roll each half of the dough up, again lengthwise. Keep it tight, and smooth out air pockets.
Pinch the seams as much as possible. The aesthetics are an area where my baguettes still need a bit of work (as you’ll see in the photos below) but the flavor and texture are so 100% legit that I know the rest will catch up. Place each rolled up dough half, seam side down, on a half sheet pan lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Fold and tuck the ends in and under using your fingers, again pinching the seams a bit.
I like to –very gently– rub a bit of flour on the baguettes at this point. It helps create the crust when it bakes later on.
I just rubbed these with a small amount of flour. This is optional.
Use the same sharp knife to slash each loaf (I go in about an inch). You can do a few diagonal lines, or one line lengthwise along the baguette. (Here are a few fancier ideas I’m excited to try soon.)
Here I did diagonal slits.
Here I went with one long lengthwise slit. As you can see, I had some issues rolling one of these. My problem? I didn’t like how it came out the first time so I tried to perfect it. It would’ve been much better if I’d left it alone!
Place in your warm place of choice, no need to cover it this time. Allow to rise a second time for another hour, until it doubles in size again.
A little over an hour later, these had risen perfectly. And my awkward-looking one was still looking awkward. Scroll to the end for the result.
Now you’re ready to bake your bread! Place a roasting pan (at least 2 inches deep) on the bottom rack of the oven, then preheat to 375.
Combine 1 egg while with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush bread with the egg wash.
Once the oven is preheated, fill a large measuring cup or pitcher with hot water. Put the half sheet pan with the bread in the oven, then pour hot* water into roasting pan below it, until you fill it about ¾ of the way. This will create a steam in the oven while the bread bakes, which combined with the egg wash, will give your bread a delicious golden crust that won’t murder the roof of your mouth.
(*The reason you don’t want cold water here is because the steam it creates when poured into the preheated roasting pan could be dangerous — hot water creates the steam with less chance of causing any burns.)
Watch out for that steam!
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes, and continue baking for 2 minutes at a time until the crust is golden brown.
I was a little bummed at how visible the seam was on this baguette. Then I tasted it, and all was well.
Your only challenges now will be waiting for it to be cool enough to handle so you can eat some, and once that happens, trying not to eat half a baguette in one sitting. I have failed at both challenges and am not even a little embarrassed to say it. It’s so delicious I dare say you will impress yourself and your friends, and the return is that much more amazing considering how easy it is!
Active prep time: 30 minutes Inactive prep time: about 3 hours
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes Makes: 2 loaves (2 baguettes)
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour (plus more for sprinkling)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 – 2 teaspoons kosher salt (½ – 1 teaspoon fine table salt)
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon water
- Dissolve sugar in warm water. Add active dry yeast. Let sit in warm place about 10 minutes.
- Combine flour and salt in bowl of electric stand mixer.
- Running the mixer on medium speed, add warm water and yeast mixture to the flour and salt. Mix until the dough comes together and off the sides of the bowl, adding up to 1 tsp at a time of additional warm water or flour as needed. (See notes for A and B above.) Once dough comes together, run mixer on medium-medium high speed for 5 minutes.
- Prepare medium-sized mixing bowl with vegetable oil.
- Using floured hands, turn dough out to floured surface and knead by hands a few times until smooth. Transfer to the oiled bowl, turning over once or twice to coat in the oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set in warm draft-free place for 1 – 2 hours until it doubles in size.
- Remove dough to floured surface and roll out thinly to 13×8. Cut in half lengthwise. Roll each half up (lengthwise) to form a cylinder. Transfer to lined half sheet pan, seam side down, and tuck and fold the ends under.
- Score/Slash with sharp knife. Set in warm place to rise a second time for 1 hour, until it doubles in size again.
- Place roasting pan in oven, then preheat to 375. Prepare egg wash with 1 egg white and about 1 tbsp of water. Brush the bread and place in preheated oven. Fill roasting pan to about ¾ full with hot tap water.
- Bake 20-25 minutes.
See, the one I was all perfectionistic about came out ugly. Plain and simple. Luckily, the flavor and texture were still perfect.