Why It Works
- Baking the baguettes underneath an inverted disposable foil roasting pan, wrapped tightly with a sheet of foil, helps steam the loaves to produce its signature crisp, crackly crust.
- Adding a small amount of sifted whole wheat flour to the dough mimics the type of flour used in France for baguettes and gives the bread a buff color and a wheatier flavor.
- Fermenting the dough overnight in the fridge develops deeper flavor while also splitting the work up over two days.
- Adding diastatic malt—an enzyme that helps convert starches into sugar—to the dough guarantees browning, even after a long fermentation.
At some point in every amateur bread baker’s life comes the desire to tackle the baguette, and for good reason: Great baguettes are hard to come by outside of France. The name baguette means “wand” or “stick,” referring to its long, slender shape. The bread is a relatively modern invention, first arising in the late-nineteenth century and achieving its familiar form and character around 1920. Despite its relatively young age, it didn't take long for the baguette to become a significant symbol of French culture, which was recently recognized by UNESCO when it added the baguette ot its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
With a dull flavor, soft crust, and a cottony, dense interior, supermarket baguettes (laden with chemicals to prevent staling) are terrible, insulting facsimiles of "les vrais choses", or the real things. And even those baguettes made in top-notch bakeries—should you have one nearby—lose their magic within a few hours after baking, never to be recovered.
That’s because baguettes are inescapably ephemeral things. Unlike most other breads, they are more crust than crumb, and as such, exceedingly quick to stale. Other high-crust ratio breads like rolls contain fats or other ingredients to help stave off staling, but a real baguette should be made from nothing other than flour, water, yeast, and salt. A well-made one is at its peak minutes after it leaves the oven and begins to degrade soon thereafter. Which means that—unless you have a bakery nearby that bakes them regularly throughout the day—it makes more sense to bake them at home.
Or it would, except for the fact that baguettes are also one of the hardest breads for the home baker to learn to make, mostly thanks to the many complicated shaping steps involved. Practice makes perfect in all things, especially when it comes to baguettes, and it's hard for a home baker to notch enough of them for the skill to become second nature. My best advice to anyone wanting to nail the baguette? Land a job at a bakery and make several hundred of them a week for a few years. Barring that, find a good recipe and just practice, practice, practice.
I speak from experience here: I've been trying to perfect my baguette for years now, and I continue to fail more often than I succeed. Nevertheless, I still think it's worth the effort, and I encourage you to give it a go. Your failures, like mine, will be mostly aesthetic in nature and delicious, despite outward imperfections. And if you are like me, you'll find the challenge a source of fun rather than frustration.
If all that hasn’t scared the idea of baguette-making out of you entirely, good news: I have a recipe for you to work with. It's one I’ve refined over many years and designed to be as simple as possible while still capable of making a superlative baguette.
The Hallmarks of a Great Baguette
- A thin, delicately crisp crust that shatters easily when cut or compressed, with a deep red-golden brown hue. Basically, if your baguette doesn't make a mess of your shirt front, send it back.
- A tender internal crumb displaying a chaotic, irregular mixture of alveoli (another word for the bubbles or holes in a loaf of bread) of various sizes from tiny to large. Some bakers call this a “wild” crumb, and it is considered a sign of proper dough fermentation and a careful approach to dough handling. A baguette that is “bien alvéolé” (e.g., with an open, wild crumb) isn’t merely about aesthetics: Much of the flavor in this simple bread comes from fermentation, so you can’t really have one without the other.
- Scores that opened dramatically during the bake to allow the loaf to expand fully and evenly along its length, displaying a variety of hues from buff on the insides to deeply caramelized on the outside edges. Good expansion on the exterior is more than mere aesthetics, since it also helps open up the internal structure to produce that coveted wild crumb.
- A symmetrical, pleasing outline. This can vary depending upon the number of cuts: A single slash down the center will create a near-perfect cylinder, while multiple overlapping cuts give a baguette that classic “beanpod” shape.
- A nutty, wheaty, buttery, and pleasantly fermented aroma and flavor, inside and out.
While it is really only the final shaping steps in baguettes that are challenging to learn, there are a ton of moving parts to the entire process, and I think it makes sense to break it down element-by-element and step-by-step.
Like I said, a real baguette contains nothing more than flour, water, yeast, and salt. Here’s what goes into my formula, and why:
High-protein all-purpose flour: Most French baguettes are made with a medium-protein flour (11 to 12%) for the proper crisp, yet tender texture. This percentage straddles the line between most American all-purpose flours and bread flours, but King Arthur all-purpose flour (the one in the red bag), with its higher-than-normal 11.7% protein, actually makes an excellent baguette flour. If you can't find that one for some reason, use bread flour instead.
Sifted whole wheat flour: In France, refined "white" flours contain more bran and germ than do American ones, which gives their loaves a golden-hued crumb and a wheatier, more complex flavor. Adding 5% whole wheat flour—sifted through a standard fine-mesh strainer to remove most of the larger particles of gluten-degrading bran it contains—to the all-purpose flour gives the baguette a similar flavor and appearance.
Diastatic malt powder: Not to be confused with malt sugar, non-diastatic malt powder, malt syrup, or malted milk powder (all of which are sugars), diastatic malt powder, also known as diastase, is an enzyme made from malted barley or wheat, that breaks down starches into simple sugars. It is naturally present in grains and used by the just-sprouted plant to access the energy stored up in its core. In flour, diastatic malt serves to provide a steady supply of sugar, to drive fermentation during proofing and caramelization in the heat of the oven.
Diastatic malt is usually added to commercial flours in the mill—it's often listed as “malted barley” or “barley flour" in the ingredients—in order to ensure a uniform, consistent amount from bag to bag. Adding a little extra diastatic malt to long-fermented doughs like this baguette ensures that there will always be enough sugar around to achieve dramatic browning during baking.
Diastatic malt powder is a specialty item only available at baking supply stores or online. If you don’t have any yet, I’ve made it optional in the formula so you can just leave it out for now, it won’t make or break your baguettes.
Water: Baguettes, with their tender and open internal crumb, require a relatively high hydration (a high ratio of water to flour by weight). My formula has a hydration of 73% (this falls in line with other rustic breads like sourdough), which is as high as possible, yielding a dough that is not sticky or hard to handle.
Yeast: Compared to other bread formulas, this recipe contains a relatively small amount of yeast. That's because it gets a long, cold fermentation in the fridge, rather than a quick room-temperature one. Dialing down the yeast and slowing down the proof encourages the production of more of the aromatic side-products of dough fermentation—acids, alcohols, esters, and other organic molecules—to develop complex flavor.
Another way baguettes differ from most other breads is the sheer number of tools they require. A few of these are things you probably have on hand or can get easily; others are specialty items you'll need to seek out.
Rectangular cake pan: When professional bakers make baguettes, they begin by dividing a massive amount of dough into many rectangular baguette-sized portions, a relatively easy thing to do when working with a huge mass of dough (plus having smaller portions makes it far easier to coax the dough into a uniform cylinder without overworking or degassing it). To achieve a similar effect at home, I cold-proof the dough in a rectangular 13- by 9-inch cake pan. The dough spreads out into a rectangle as it sits in the fridge, making it easy to divide into four more-or-less uniform pieces when it is turned out of the pan and onto a floured countertop later on.
Couche: To maintain their uniform cylindrical shape and to prevent them from touching one another, the shaped baguettes need to proof within the folds of a floured linen cloth known in French as a couche. Coarse, heavy linen is the fabric of choice for couches because it has enough heft to stay upright when pleated, and the right sort of texture to wick moisture away from the dough without also attaching itself to it. The ideal dimensions of a home-scale couche are 17 inches wide and at least 20 inches long. I prefer the 18-inch wide couches from the San Francisco Baking Institute, because they are sized to fit a half-sheet. You could make your own couche if you can find a bolt of the right grade of linen, but pre-cut ones with hemmed edges that won’t fray aren’t all that more expensive than DIY versions. If you don’t want to invest in a couche just yet, the next best option is a large linen tea towel.
Clean plastic garbage bag: To keep the dough from drying out as they rest or proof, bakeries keep them inside covered rolling racks. At home, you can use clean plastic garbage bags instead.
Transfer peel: Once the baguettes are proofed, they are too floppy and fragile to move to a baking peel. Instead, you want to use a thin, stiff, beveled-edge wooden board known as a transfer peel. To use one, you use the transfer peel to roll a baguette over on the couche, use the couche to roll the baguette onto the transfer peel, then roll the baguette off of the transfer peel onto a sheet of parchment and use the peel to fine-tune its position, if needed. At first, all the flipping and flopping might seem like overkill, but in truth it is the gentlest and most effective way to move a baguette from one place to another. (It’s also why a transfer peel is sometimes known as a “flipper board.”) Again, a transfer peel is definitely something a handy person could fashion themselves, but commercial ones are inexpensive. They are a specialty item you’ll most likely need to order online.
Curved-blade lame: Bakers use an ultra-thin, ultra-sharp razor blade on a handle known as a lame (pronounced lahm) to score breads. For baguettes, you ideally want to use a curved-blade lame rather than a straight one, because the former is easier to orient at an extreme angle to the dough, which in turn helps to cut a "flap" of dough that will form a dramatic ear once the loaf is baked. (That said, a straight-bladed lame can work here too.) Be sure to start with a brand-new razor blade for maximum sharpness because razor blades dull far more quickly than you'd think. Lames are available at baking specialty stores or online.
Baking stone: In order to achieve an open, tender crumb and a crisp crust, baguettes need to bake quickly. For this reason, they are usually baked at a high temperature (500˚F) on a preheated baking stone, which pumps heat into the core of the loaf to encourage rapid oven spring (loaf expansion). If you don't have either of these yet, you’ll need to get one before you begin.
I don’t recommend using a baking steel for baking baguettes, because the oven temperature is so high and they can have a tendency to burn on one. If it is all you have, then you might want to set a baking sheet below the baguettes to insulate them, especially after you’ve removed the foil pan in Step 18 of the recipe below.
Disposable turkey roasting pan and aluminum foil: Professional baguette bakers use steam-injected bread ovens to keep the exterior of the loaves moist at the start of the bake, for maximum oven spring and to produce the baguette's signature crisp, crumb-scattering crust. At home, I have found that the best way to mimic these conditions is to bake the baguettes underneath an upside-down disposable 17- by 13-inch turkey roasting pan wrapped tightly with aluminum foil. I’ve been using the upside-down foil roasting pan for years now, but I only thought of sealing the container with a sheet of foil while developing this recipe, and it was a game-changer. (After the baguettes have expanded fully and the crust has begun to set, the pan is removed to let the loaves finish browning and crisp up.) This works identically to baking larger loaves in a covered Dutch oven—the container corrals moisture that evaporates from the dough, enveloping the loaf with steam. It’s a bit of a chore to do, but it’s well worth the effort. Trust me, I’ve tried every oven steaming approach possible, and this is far superior to any of the alternatives.
Pizza peel: If you are here, I’m guessing you already have a pizza peel to use for loading and unloading the baguettes. Just about any sort will do, as long as it is at least 12 inches wide and long. (I prefer a thin-bladed aluminum one myself.) If not, you can always use a rimless baking sheet or the back of a rimmed one instead (the latter won’t work for unloading, but the baked baguettes can be moved around with a pair of long-handled tongs).
There are a lot of stages to baguette making, though—shaping aside—none of them are especially complicated, especially with this formula, which I deliberately kept as simple as possible without compromising on results.
Mixing: One of the main ways to get that desirably irregular, open crumb is to let the dough do its own thing during fermentation. For that reason, my formula is light on manipulation: It’s mixed quickly by hand and folded just once after 30 minutes to even out its texture. There's no need for kneading, since—as in other “no-knead” recipes—the long fermentation allows the dough’s gluten to develop passively.
Room-temperature proof: Before the dough can be moved into the fridge, the fermentation needs to get solidly underway; in my formula, it sits at room temperature until it's puffy and nearly doubled in volume. This can take anywhere from one to two hours after the fold, depending upon ambient temperatures. After that, it gets pressed gently into the lightly-oiled cake pan, covered tightly, and then moved to the refrigerator.
Cold-proofing: There are a million ways to make a baguette dough, but the best of them usually involve an extended period of fermentation at some stage to develop flavor. Oftentimes this involves the use of a preferment, a portion of dough that has fermented ahead of its inclusion in a dough. (A sponge, which you may be familiar with, is a colloquial name for one type of preferment.) This recipe instead uses an en bac (or “in a container” in French) approach, where the entire batch of dough gets a long, cool fermentation. This is my preferred method for baguettes, since it is both convenient and flexible: Convenient because you make the dough on one day and bake the baguettes the next, and flexible because there is a relatively wide window of time, 15 to 48 hours, during which the dough is ready to use.
Dividing: This formula yields four baguettes, but only two can go into the oven at a time, so you’ll need to stagger the baking of each set by at least 20 minutes. How long you wait before starting the clock on the second batch is entirely up to you, as long as it is within the 48-hour window. For instance, you can make them 20 minutes after the first set, or wait until the following day (this way means you can have fresh-baked baguettes every day!).
To start, you want to flour the top of the dough inside the pan, then gently turn it out onto a lightly-floured countertop. To maintain the dough’s rectangular shape, use a bench scraper to detach it from the sides of the pan as needed, then invert the pan over the counter at an angle to let it slowly peel off. If necessary, you can reach under with a hand and gently separate the end of the dough from the pan; the rest usually comes off on its own. After that, flour the top of the dough lightly, restore its rectangular shape if necessary, then divide it into four pieces of near equal weight and shape. (The more uniform they are at this stage, the easier it will be to keep them uniform later on.) Carefully return two of the pieces to the pan, separated from one another by at least a few inches, cover the pan tightly, and return it to the fridge to bake later on. Finally, separate the remaining two pieces from one another, then cover them loosely with a clean plastic garbage bag (or another cake pan if you have one.)
Warming up: Because cold doughs are stiff and hard to shape, the dough needs to warm up before starting the shaping process. It shouldn’t warm up completely, however; the goal is to just take a little of the chill off and get it between 50˚ and 55˚F, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, depending on ambient temperatures.
Preparing the couche: In a bakery, couches are in constant use on a daily basis, which means they are saturated with enough moisture to keep them stiff enough to stand upright when pleated. For home bakers with couches that are brand-new or that see only occasional use, the trick is to mist the couche lightly with water using a spray bottle. You then center it, misted side down, over a rimmed baking sheet (or a rimless cookie sheet), and roll up the ends until there's no overhang. You then dust the exposed surface of the couche with flour lightly but evenly, preferably using a small fine-mesh sieve.
Countertop management: Shaping many breads, and baguettes especially, uses the friction of the dough against the countertop to develop tension. This means that you need to be careful not to flour the work surface excessively, or the dough will just slide around freely. I like to use a “flour station” approach for flour management: Instead of dusting the area I’m working in with flour, I dust a section of counter adjacent to it, either to the side or the rear. Then whenever the dough piece seems like it is getting sticky, I lift it up and drop it gently into the floured area to give it a light coating of flour, then return it to the unfloured area to continue shaping.
Preshaping: Most breads get shaped in a three-phase process: an initial preshape, a brief rest to let the dough relax, and a final shaping. This sequence is especially important when it comes to baguettes. You cannot brute force an amorphous blob of dough into a 14-inch long, uniformly-round cylinder in one go; the gluten in the dough will tighten up long before you get it there, leaving it misshapen, and you'll knock out all the gas it contains, ruining its internal structure. Instead, you want to coax it along gradually and gently by first delicately folding the rectangle of dough into thirds like a business letter in one direction, then repeating again in the other direction. This turns the dough into a small, uniform loaf shape that can be easily manipulated into a cylinder after it relaxes for 20 minutes or so.
Final shaping: Similar to preshaping, the final shaping of baguettes involves a stepwise movement from short rectangle to long tube, with each step in the sequence elongating the dough gradually and evenly. For the beginner, it’s this complicated set of movements that takes the most repetition to become second nature. It’s easier to demonstrate than it is to explain, but here they are, one after the other:
- One: You gently pat the rectangle beneath your flattened hand, to even out the thickness of the dough and elongate it slightly in both directions.
- Two: You fold the top third of dough toward the center (the long way) and then seal the flap of dough to the dough beneath it, working your fingertips along the line where they meet. (Try not to compress the newly-formed roll of dough itself; only push down along the seam.)
- Three: You rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat, to yield a rectangle of dough with a slight trough along its center line where the two flaps overlap.
- Four: You place the thumb of your non-dominant hand into the opposite end of the trough, gently anchoring the dough in place against the countertop. Using your other hand, you fold the dough in half over itself (and your thumb) and gently seal the back edge of the dough to the front edge. You then move your thumb an inch or so further down the trough and repeat, working your way along the log of dough until you reach the other end. (One note: You want to avoid sealing the ends of the log at this stage, since that can trap overly large bubbles of air in the core of the loaf.)
- Five: You place the palm of one hand on the center of the log and stack the other hand directly atop it. Then you gently roll the log forward and back under your hands to compress the center slightly. Starting in the center forces internal bubbles toward the ends of the log.
- Six: You then move your hands apart in opposite directions, rolling the log beneath them, expanding it lengthwise. If necessary, you return both hands to the center and repeat until the log attains the appropriate length, 14 to 15 inches, in the case of a home-oven sized baguette, or what in France would be called a demi-baguette. It’s best to elongate the log gradually rather than in one go. Again, don’t seal the two ends until it is fully elongated.
- Seven: You roll the ends of the log under your palms in opposite directions to form sharp points. It’s best to over-emphasize the points, because they tend to soften as the bread proofs.
- Eight: You look for the seam (sometimes it can be hard to see), and then you set the log onto the floured couche, seam side up. (Seam side up because you always want the proofing container to cradle the top of the loaf, and because that allows you to keep track of it, so that you can bake the loaf seam side down.)
- Nine: You pleat the couche around the loaf, cover the couche with a clean plastic trash bag, and move onto the next one. Once both baguettes in the set are shaped, you fold the ends of the couche over them and fold the ends of the bag under the pan to enclose it fully.
Proofing the baguettes: The shaped baguettes proof at room temperature until they are puffy and a poke with a finger leaves a depression that springs back slowly. (If the loaf is underproofed, the depression will spring back quickly; if it is overproofed, it likely won’t spring back at all.) This can take anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes, depending upon ambient temperatures. While they proof, preheat the oven and baking stone to 500˚F.
Preparing the foil "Dutch oven”: In order to fully enclose the loaves within the foil roasting pan, you start by setting a 20- by 18-inch sheet of aluminum foil on the counter and centering a 16- by 12-inch sheet of parchment over it.
Transferring the baguettes to the parchment: I explained how to use the transfer peel above, but here it is in a bit more detail: First, you unpleat the couche to separate the loaves, then use the transfer peel to roll the first baguette over, seam side down. You then wedge the peel under the long edge of the baguette, lift the loose end of the couche in your other hand, and then use it to roll the baguette over onto the board, seam side up. Finally, you roll the baguette over one last time onto the sheet of parchment and then use the transfer peel to fine-tune its position and straighten it out, if needed. You then repeat the sequence with the second baguette.
Scoring the baguette: The classic baguette score is a series of overlapping slashes that are just barely angled off the centerline of the loaf. As the scores expand, they form the almond-shaped openings that give a baguette its distinctive “beanpod" shape.
But this is a difficult scoring method to pull off, requiring lots and lots of practice. For beginners, I recommend just making a single slash down the centerline of the loaf. The results can be just as dramatic and beautiful, and it is pretty easy to pull off.
The goal of scoring a baguette is to create a flap of dough that peels back from the loaf as it expands, to form an “ear.” To do so, you want to hold the lame with the cup of the blade facing up, at about a 30-degree angle to the dough. And to prevent the blade from catching on the dough, you want to also angle the handle of the lame away from the loaf, so only the very tip of the blade is doing the work. (Learning to orient your hand and the lame correctly and consistently is one of the things that only comes with extensive practice.) To keep the loaf from moving while you make the slash, anchor it gently but firmly in place by grasping the sides of the loaf with the thumb and index finger of your other hand.
Some bakers insist that the correct method for scoring breads is backhand, with the tip of the blade pointing away from you. I learned it forehand, working from the back side of the loaf, with the tip pointing toward myself, and I can't unlearn it. (Clearly, either way works.)
Closing the foil “Dutch oven”: Next, you set the roasting pan over the baguettes and then roll the overhanging foil over the rim to seal the packet completely. Then you slide a pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet) under the foil packet and transfer the whole thing to the baking stone and set a timer for 10 minutes.
Removing the foil: Once the 10 minutes are up, you carefully remove the foil packet from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Then, very carefully use a pair of tongs (or your hands) to open one corner of the foil to release any remaining steam, making sure to stand back when you do so! Finish uncrimping the foil completely, and remove the pan.
Browning the baguettes: Finally, you return the two loaves to the baking stone for 8 to 10 minutes to brown, rotating them from back to front halfway through baking. Be sure to let them reach an even, deep red-brown color for maximum crispness and a deeply caramelized flavor.
Cooling: At this point, you might be tempted to rip into one of your baguettes as soon as they are cool enough to handle, especially if it is from one of your first attempts, but resist the temptation if you can! Their texture will actually improve as they cool, since the crust will be dry and hard when it first comes out of the oven. As it sits, the crust will absorb moisture from the interior of the loaf to attain the ideal shattery-crisp texture. The flavor of the baguette will improve over time, too, since aromas from the caramelized crust will penetrate deeper into the crumb.
Learning to make a great baguette requires a lot of tools, skills, and practice, and is definitely not for the beginner nor the faint of heart. Getting there will take time, and your first few attempts are likely to fall short (though they’ll probably still be tasty!). There are few breads that are as rewarding to tackle, both for the satisfaction of having done a difficult thing, and because eating a well-crafted and freshly-baked one is a sublime experience, hard to come by any other way.
- 56g (1/2 cup) sifted whole-wheat flour (see note)
- 465g (3 1/3 cups) high-protein all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur (see note)
- 11g (4 teaspoons) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 4g (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
- 1g (heaping 1/4 teaspoon) diastatic malt powder, optional (see note)
- 375g (1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon) water, 75˚F (24°C)
In a medium bowl, whisk together sifted whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, yeast, and diastatic malt (if using) until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. In another medium bowl, add water and half of the flour mixture and mix with a dough whisk or your hands until a thick batter forms, about 15 seconds. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until a uniform dough forms and no dry flour remains, about 15 seconds. Cover bowl with a plate, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Using lightly-moistened fingertips, fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of the dough toward center. Rotate bowl slightly and repeat folding until the dough is taut and you can no longer easily stretch the edge of the dough, 6 to 8 times total. Cover bowl with plate and let rest at room temperature until dough is puffy and expanded about 1 1/2 times from its original volume, 1 to 2 hours.
Transfer dough to a lightly-oiled 13- by 9-inch cake pan, pressing gently until the dough fills as much of the pan as possible. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 48 hours.
Lightly flour a work surface that’s at least twice as large as the pan, and flour top of dough lightly but evenly, until no longer sticky to the touch. Using a plastic dough scraper or stiff plastic spatula, release dough from sides of pan if necessary, then gently nudge dough onto work surface without stretching it beyond its current dimensions. Flour top of dough once more, lightly but evenly. Using a bench scraper, divide dough into 4 equal rectangles (about 225g or 8 ounces each). Using bench scraper, return two of the rectangles to the pan, separated by at least 1 inch. Cover pan tightly and refrigerate until ready to bake remaining two baguettes.
Using bench scraper, and dusting work surface with more flour as needed, separate remaining two rectangles by at least one inch and cover loosely with a clean plastic trash bag (or a clean cake pan). Let rest at room temperature until dough warms up to just cool to the touch (between 50˚ and 55˚F), 30 to 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, using a spray bottle, lightly mist back side of couche with water. Center couche, misted side down, over a rimmed (or rimless) baking sheet, roll overhanging sections up to meet edges of pan, and, using a fine mesh sieve, dust exposed area of couche liberally and evenly with flour.
Flour an area of the work surface away from where you are working and slide one piece of dough onto floured surface. Position the remaining piece of dough so that the short side is facing you, then gently fold into thirds like a business letter. Rotate dough 90 degrees and repeat folding into thirds to form a log about 4- by 3-inches. Move log back to floured area and then repeat with other dough. Cover logs loosely with plastic bag (or a cake pan) and let rest for 20 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, position one piece of dough with the long edge facing you. Using a slightly cupped hand, gently compress dough into a 6- by 4-inch rectangle. Fold top third of dough toward center and press gently using fingertips to seal seam. Rotate dough 180 degrees, and repeat folding to form a rectangle with a slight crease along the center where seams overlap. (If at any point dough begins to stick to counter, flour an area adjacent to your work area and briefly place dough on floured area to eliminate stickiness.)
Place the thumb of your non-dominant hand at end of the seam to anchor dough in place, then fold the dough in half over your thumb, sealing the dough with the heel of your hand and moving your thumb as you work your way from one end of loaf to the other. (Do not seal ends of loaf.)
Cup one hand over center of loaf, and roll it gently forward and back 3 or 4 times, compressing the center slightly.
Using both hands, starting at center of loaf and working outward toward ends, gently roll dough into an even, 13- to 14-inch long cylinder. You may need to repeat rolling from center to ends 2 to 5 times to achieve the desired length. Do not seal ends of loaf until it is fully elongated.
Moving hands forward and back in opposite directions, roll ends of loaf under palms to form defined points. (The finished loaf should be about 14 inches long.)
Transfer dough to floured couche, seam side up. Form edges of couche into pleats along either side of loaf, fold remaining flaps of couche over loaf, and then cover couche with loosely with a second clean plastic garbage bag. Repeat steps 8 through 12 with the remaining dough piece.
Fold loose ends of couche over loaves, then cover baking sheet completely with plastic bag. Fold ends of bag loosely under sheet to enclose. Let loaves rest at room temperature until about 1-1/2 times in volume and dough springs back slowly when poked gently with fingertip, 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to the middle position, place baking stone directly on rack, and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). On a work surface, place a 20- by 18-inch sheet of aluminum foil and center a 16- by 12-inch sheet of parchment on top. Remove plastic bag from couche and unfold couche to separate loaves. Using a transfer peel, gently roll first loaf away from second one, inverting it seam side down. Place transfer peel alongside inner edge of first loaf at a 45-degree angle to couche. With other hand, lift opposite end of couche and use it to invert loaf, seam side up, onto transfer peel. Gently invert loaf onto parchment-lined foil, seam side down, centered lengthwise and about 2 inches from long edge of parchment. Use transfer peel and your other hand to straighten loaf if needed. Repeat with second loaf, leaving 3 inches of space between loaves.
Holding lame concave side up, with handle oriented at a 30-degree angle to loaf, make a 1/8-inch deep slash along centerline of loaf, using a single, swift motion from one end to the other. Repeat with second loaf.
Invert a disposable aluminum 17- by 13-inch roasting pan over edges of parchment, then crimp overhanging foil tightly around edges of pan to seal it close. Carefully slide pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet) under foil packet and transfer to baking stone. Bake for 10 minutes.
Using pizza peel, transfer packet to a wire rack. Using tongs or hands, carefully peel back one corner of foil and allow excess steam to escape. Uncrimp remaining foil and remove roasting pan.
Using pizza peel, return loaves to baking stone (discarding parchment-lined foil), separated by at least 2 inches. Bake loaves, rotating them back to front after 5 minutes, until deep golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes total.
Transfer loaves to wire rack and let loaves cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Repeat steps 5 to 19 to proof and bake remaining two baguettes.
Kitchen scale, water mister bottle, linen couche, transfer peel, rimless cookie sheet or rimmed baking sheet, clean plastic garbage bag, parchment paper, wide pizza peel (or second rimless cookie sheet), baking stone, lame, disposable aluminum 17- by 13-inch roasting pan, wire rack, dough whisk
For best results, weigh the flours and water for this recipe.
For sifted whole wheat flour, sift whole wheat flour through a standard fine-mesh strainer to remove most of the larger particles of gluten-degrading bran it contains. You can discard the bran in the strainer or save for another use.
If a high-protein all-purpose flour like King Arthur is unavailable, use bread flour instead.
Diastatic malt powder is an enzyme used to promote browning in cold fermented doughs. It can be sourced from bakery supply stores online. Be sure to get diastatic malt powder; sweeteners like malt sugar, malt syrup, and malted milk powder are not appropriate substitutes.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Baguettes are best consumed within 4 hours of baking.