No kneading! No proofing! So easy it enrages real bakers the world over!
I’m not a baker. I don’t deserve the gorgeous loaves that come out of my oven. I feel guilty that I haven’t slaved over proofing dough and kneading for hours, even days, as real breadmakers have done and continue to do.
Friends of mine—even those of the European variety who, let’s face it, have their knickers in a twist about the crumminess of American bread (pun intended)—have gone all mystical on me when I serve them the crusty, flaky baguettes that I have not slaved over. But I can’t take credit. The accolades go to the authors of my secret breadmaking bible, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.
So many people have asked for the baguette recipe that I’ve decided to post it. You can also find it here in the New York Times, where I first found the simple recipe for bread dough that inspired me to buy the book and make many loaves of bread each week.
1 1/2 TBS kosher salt
1 1/2 TBS yeast (or 2 pkgs)
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough (the unbleached part does matter)
1. In a large bowl, mix salt and yeast with 3 cups lukewarm water. Stir in flour until entire mixture is evenly wet and gloopey. (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook, but you can easily do it by hand.)
2. Cover with a lid (not airtight) and let rise for 2-5 hours at room temperature. The Kitchen Aid mixing bowl with a metal lid works perfectly for this.
3. If you’re in a time crunch, you can form a loaf to bake at this point. But this kind of no-knead dough is so wet, it’s hard at first to manage the dough and form a nice, smooth loaf. Best thing to do is plan ahead and refrigerate the dough for a few hours, or even overnight, after it rises. The cold dough is much easier to handle. The batch you’ve just mixed will make 4-8 loaves (depending on size), and the dough lasts in the fridge for more than a week.
4. An hour and fifteen minutes before you want hot bread: If you’ve got a pizza peel and a baking stone, put the stone and a small metal broiling pan in the oven and dust the pizza peel with either flour or cornmeal. For baguettes, I use flour. Cornmeal works well if you’re making a pizza or a round boule loaf. Be liberal with the flour on the pizza peel. Once this wet dough sticks to something, it basically merges with that object for all time. *Wooden pizza peels work better than metal.
5. Cut or tear off a hunk of dough, sprinkle some flour on it to make it easier to handle, and stretch the top of the ball towards the bottom so the top is smooth and the bottom is lumpy. Then you can start rolling and elongating the dough with your hands if you want a longer loaf. I usually do an oblong loaf that isn’t quite as long and skinny as a baguette. Refrigerate the rest of the dough, and let the loaf you’ve made rest on the pizza peel for 40 minutes. (You can make 2 at a time, but more than that won’t easily fit on the peel or stone.)
6. Preheat oven (with broiler pan and baking stone inside) for 20 minutes, at 450.
7. When you’re ready to bake, dust top of loaf with flour and slash with a good serrated bread knife. Slide the dough from the peel onto the stone. This is the trickiest part of the whole endeavor. If you’ve loaded the peel up with flour or cornmeal all the way to the edge, the bread should slide pretty easily once encouraged to dislodge with a plastic spatula.
It takes a little practice to master this without mangling the loaf. (This is particularly tricky with a loaded & topped pizza. The crucial thing is to top the pizza quickly so it doesn’t sit on the stone for longer than 3 minutes or so.) But remember: bent loaves taste just as good.
8. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler pan (preferable on a rack below the stone). Water should hit the metal, sizzle, and steam up satisfyingly. Close the oven to trap the steam. Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
9. Remove loaf and place on a wire rack so it cools evenly. If you want pretty slices, let the bread cool before you cut it, otherwise the loaf tends to smash a bit. (You’ll quickly realize that it’s nice to have an excellent bread knife.) But tearing into it while it’s hot is a better idea.
(note: If you don’t have a pizza stone or peel, stretch rounded dough into an oval and put it in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Same temperature, same baking time.)
*note: Since posting this, I have experimented with making pita bread with this same dough recipe. The pita turned out beautifully and is simple to make. Just roll out the dough to 1/8″ thick, slide onto the hot pizza stone, and cook at 500 degrees for 7 minutes. It puffs up like a bread balloon! No one will believe that you made it.