Recipe: The Three-Day Baguette

Yes, I know what I’ve been saying about baguettes, that they’re the ultimate “fast” bread, that bakeries whip them out in as little as four hours. The thing is, that’s only true if you’ve got your preferments on-hand and ready to go (like full-time bakeries do). Home bakers need to mix up their preferments a day ahead, let them mature overnight, then mix, raise and shape their dough the next day. I also suggest another overnight rest for your baguettes to develop even more flavor, though that’s not strictly necessary.

So really, if you had the preferments on-hand (some old dough in the freezer, plus, say, some well-fed sourdough starter that you could refresh early in the morning on the day of the bake), you could theoretically do these in an afternoon. More time makes better bread, however. Up to you.

This recipe is designed to yield three small, 7-ounce baguettes, plus give you 5 ounces of leftover “old” dough that you can stash in the freezer and use the next time. What follows is my recommendation for what I think is the best possible baguette, but by all means do your own interpretation. Here’s the formula:

9 ounces bread flour

Scant ¼ teaspoon (0.6 grams) instant yeast

4.5 ounces lukewarm water

Either 7.5 ounces refreshed and bubbly sourdough starter (instructions to the right) or 7.5 ounces poolish preferment (instructions also to the right).

5 ounces old dough (pâte fermentée)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

And here are the procedures:

Day 1

Make up your old dough and your poolish, OR refresh your starter.

Day 2

Put the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix 15 seconds to combine. Add the water and poolish (or starter) and mix for 30 seconds to moisten all the ingredients. Let stand for 20 minutes.

Then, rip up your old dough into several pieces and add them to the bowl with the salt. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not too sticky. Add a little extra flour if necessary.

Put the dough into an oiled dough rising container and let rise until doubled, anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on whether you’ve used the poolish or the sourdough starter. Cut the dough into 7-ounces pieces, reserving the leftover 5-ounce piece for your next batch. Shape the larger pieces into small torpedoes, and let them rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. With the edge of your hand, using a gentle karate-chop motion, make a trench down the middle of each oblong loaf. Fold the lower half up, and the top half down, so as to create surface tension on the outside skin of the dough. Pinch the dough closed along the seam, then gently roll the dough out to a length of about 8 inches. Let rest 10 minutes, again to relax the dough, then roll the baguettes out to a full 12-14 inches. Lay the loaves out on a baguette pan and spritz lightly with water.

Now then, here’s the point of decision. You can either preheat your oven to 500 and let the baguettes proof for 30 – 45 minutes and then bake them, or you can park them in the fridge (retard them) for better flavor. If you plan to retard them, do it for a minimum of 5 hours, preferably overnight.

Day 3

Preheat your oven to 500. Remove the baguettes from the fridge, spritz them with water again and let them proof for about 1 ½ hours, until a bit puffier than they were when they came out (they will have risen some in the fridge). Slash them with a sharp knife to allow for expansion, spritz once more with water, and bake according to the directions in the post How to Make Your Home Oven More Like a Brick Oven for 20 minutes. Open the oven, rotate the pan, and bake another 5-10 minutes until they’re well browned.

Set on a rack and allow them to cool completely before going and getting out the really good butter.

24 thoughts on “Recipe: The Three-Day Baguette”

  1. Hi Joe

    Thanks for the tutorial. I had a go at making the baguettes. For some reason mine came out tasting more of ciabatta bread-lol, they tasted ok though. I try to buy a baguette pan, but couldn’t find one anywhere, so just ended up laying them on a silicone mat, which made them not so baguette looking. I think I will try again and see if the stored old dough will make a difference. Anyway, thanks again- I think your website is great and explains very well the process and the reasons why and how u make things, which is great for an amateur like me.

    Mazy :).

    1. Hey Mazy!

      As I wrote in that series of posts, a great baguette is a process, not a destination — a cliché that’s entirely true in this case. Keep after it!

      – Joe

  2. Okay, so I’ve got this problem. I cannot, for the life of me, cut the slits in the risen dough without nearly deflating and disfiguring the loaf. I’ve tried razor blades, fillet knives, name it..the darn blades seem to drag more than cut across the surface. I had a little better luck yesterday because I used your technique of tightening the surface tension, but I still didn’t get a very clean cut.
    Is there a trick or special technique to this? Help!

    1. Hey Susan!

      I feel your pain. Slashing loaves was a tough thing for me to learn when I got my first baking job. There we used a razor blade stuck onto the end of a wooden coffee stirrer. It was just the right amount of pressure combined with an ultra-sharp blade. These days I just dust the top of the loaf with flour then slash with my sharpest knife. This thing:

      Not only is it new and very sharp, the reverse scallop on the blade cuts down on drag. But in truth I think it’s mostly a combination of the right motion with some flour to eliminate sticking. Keep practicing!

      – Joe

  3. I had to come back to tell you that the flour made all the difference in cutting that dough. My knife (not even a razor blade!) went through that dough like butter! I was so happy, I finally got easy, clean perfect cuts. My loaf looks so professional!

    I also made extra dough to stash away for next time. I had increased the poolish by half and upped the dough quanties, but not the yeast, and gave it a nice leasurely ferment and rise without adding any heat. If this is good, next time should be better, right?

    1. Yep, you can upsize baking recipes as much as you want!

      But thanks for checking in and giving me the good news!

      – Joe

    1. Hey Stephanie!

      You can very easily make some. “Old dough” is really just any semi-firm bread dough. A very small batch of white sandwich bread, for instance. Let it rest on the counter for 4-6 hours to develop more flavor if you wish. Otherwise just use it fresh. But stash any leftovers in the freezer for the next time you want to make baguettes!

      – Joe

  4. Hei joe,
    Wonderful recipe.. i made my first baguette , was dreaming the whole night it was retarding in the fridge.. Morning made it freash, my hubby was so excited with it and vi had heartily breakfast with ur fresh baked baguettes, but as susan said i dint get the cuts properly, but i wont complain coz tid is my 1st… Thanks for d recipe..

    1. Thank you for the note, Suganyalena! I greatly appreciate you letting me know how they turned out. Congratulations on your success! Keep going…may you one day bake your perfect baguette!


      – joe

  5. Hi Joe! I’m finally getting around to making your baguettes, instead of just improvising something vaguely baguette-shaped as is my more lazy custom. I was surprised to see that your recipe is quite dry – just a bit more than a ratio of 60 for the water, factoring in the poolish. I thought I’d read ages ago that baguettes tend to be upwards of 75% water, or is that in my head? Also, I am sadly stoneless and brickless and I don’t think I can remedy that before tomorrow. Is it a bad idea to crank the oven up to 500 without those to even out the temperature distribution? I.e. will I risk burning the loaves? Thanks as always!

    1. Hi Jen!

      Formulas vary of course. I think a not-so-wet dough holds its shape better, even though it doesn’t deliver holes of the size many people want. That’s just my take on it.

      Let me know what you decide!

      – Joe

      1. Hi Joe, wow, count yourself a new convert to “old dough”! I could not believe what a difference the 12-hr poolish and pâte fermentée made! I was a bit short on time, so the pâte fermentée only had a few hours in the fridge before being incorporated, and I had to replace the 2-4-hr proof of the baguette dough with an overnight in the fridge followed by a brief room temperature proof for the formed loaves. As a result, I wasn’t expecting a tremendous difference, but when I took the dough out of the fridge after the overnight, I couldn’t believe how wonderfully complex the smell was. And of course it got even better as they proofed on the counter. I now have 3 little packets in the freezer, and am looking forward to even more flavour next time! I was going to send you a photo of the final product, but the baguettes are already gone!

        About the water content, I increased the water to about 6.5 oz, but then added a couple of tbsp of gluten flour (to make up for not having bread flour) and forgot to reduce the regular flour accordingly, so that probably cancelled out the extra water. I did find the result had a bit too tight a crumb for my liking, so I’ll probably keep the extra water but reduce the regular flour next time.

        Thanks again! Can’t wait for the next batch, and maybe I’ll manage to get some bricks by then 🙂

        1. Great Jen! So glad it worked so well for you. It does make a big difference in flavor.

          As you make more of these you’ll see that big, open holes and lots of slow fermenting flavor are at opposite ends of a spectrum. Finding the right balance between the two is up to the baker. Let me know what your perfect formula turns out to be!

          Have fun and thanks for the note!

          – Joe

          1. Gorgeous, Jen! Thanks so much for the photo. I might try your recipe tweaks!

            – Joe

  6. Hi Joe, found your blog a couple of days ago and made the baguette yesterday/today. Somehow my poolish was not enough so instead I added so more patê fermentée. And the result… Amazing!!! As we live in a very humid country I used a little less water, and the dough was still kind of “too soft” to the touch. But I bake them this way anyway and they came out fantastic! Thanks for the nice recipe!

    1. Excellent, Hiroko!

      I’m very glad it worked so well. Those are excellent improvisations. Send me a picture some time! Cheers,

      – Joe

  7. bHey joe, there’s something that I want to ask. As an amateur baker a read a lot of recipes regarding baguettes. I’ve seen baguettes made with AP flour and others are made with bread flour. What’s the difference with using one of those two flours? Some people swear that AP flour is better while others says bread flour is superior.

    1. Hey Nate!

      Thanks for the question. The more protein in the flour the bigger the holes in the crumb tend to be because protein (gluten) makes the dough stretchy, able to hold big gas and steam bubbles without them popping. AP flour has less protein generally produces breads with a finer crumb. Does that make sense?

      – Joe

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