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French baguettes take time and you need to plan ahead. True, there are lots of quicker recipes for 'lookalike' French baguettes - made with a poolish or with a sourdough starter. However, we must remember one very important thing...the ingredients for a true baguette tradition are enshrined in law.
In 1993, the French government passed the law known as the Décret Pain. The legislature made clear the provenance of all French bread.
The traditional baguette has to be made on the premises from which it is sold (or eaten, or given away). It can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can't be frozen or have preservatives added to them. And they usually go stale within 24 hours.
As for size, the baguette tradition should have a diameter of 6 - 8 cm and be no shorter than 26 cms and no longer than a metre.
The whole letter of the law is spelt out here: https://www.cooksinfo.com/french-bread-law-1993. In fact, Google even celebrated the 22nd Anniversary of the Décret Pain, back in 2015.
In 2021, the baguette tradition was listed for UNESCO World Heritage status.
A previous ruling of 1920 dictated that it should be 80 gms in weight and 40 cms in length. This only changed after the war when French bread was at an all-time low and standards were set to encourage France to return to its rightful place as one of the world's finest bread-making countries.
So, the Baguette Tradition is made with T55 flour, salt, yeast and water. And, that is it! The key is to take your time; the longer you take, the better the end product.
650 gms T55 or strong white flour
450 gms tepid water
11 gms crushed sea salt
3 gms active instant yeast, or 4 gms of dried yeast or 11 gms fresh yeast
Remember that fresh or dried yeast need to be activated first.
This is not necessary if using instant yeast.
T55 flour is a hard wheat flour with 0.55% mineral content
The day before:
Warm the water to about 24⁰C.
Add the flour to the water and mix thoroughly.
Cover and rest for one hour at room temperature (autolyse)
Add the salt, dimple and mix in by hand and rest for five minutes.
Add the yeast, mix and mix thoroughly.
Knead together by hand, or by machine for about 8 - 10 minutes until the dough is soft and silky.
Put a timer on for 20 minutes. Over the next hour, stretch the dough and fold over itself once. Do this three times at 20 minutes intervals.
Cover and place in the refrigerator for 12 - 18 hours.
The next day:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and leave ar room temperature for half an hour.
Cut cleanly into three or four portions.
Gently stretch each portion out into a small rectangle. Fold the dough onto itself longwise and then roll out until you have the length of baguette you need for your couche or baguette former.
Place the baguettes, covered, in a warm place and allow to rise for 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 240⁰C and add a tray of boiling water to the bottom of the oven.
Slash the baguettes just prior to adding them to the oven.
if you're not sure how to cut the baguette....here's a very useful video.