I’ve been a baguette fan for a long time, and even though I’ve discovered there are just too many variables/barriers preventing me from baking a truly French baguette, I keep trying. Baking a French traditional baguette is my quixotic challenge in baking.
French bread flour is definitely different – it is a harder type of wheat I think – and our ovens here in the US don’t always reach the temperatures required for crusty French-style breads. However, I have found a recipe from King Arthur Flour that comes darn close to the real thing, or at least I think so.
When we visit France, one of the things I look forward to is a stop for baguette. No matter how small the town, there is always a boulangerie turning out the most delectable, crusty loaves. Now that I think of it, we just may be overdue for an in-person taste test.
Ingredients for the Starter
- 1/2 cup cool water
- 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached AP Flour (don’t substitute)
- 1/8 tsp instant yeast
Ingredients for the Dough
- All of the starter
- 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached AP Flour (I substituted 1 cup KA Bread flour because I had it in the pantry)
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- Mix the starter ingredients until smooth, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight. Don’t skip this step!
- The next day, mix the starter with the remaining ingredients, kneading until the dough is nice and springy but not totally smooth (or if you are like me, use your bread hook and heavy-duty mixer). Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour and again after 2 hours.
- Divide the dough in half (in our two-person household, I divide the dough into quarters). Shape each half into a rough oval. Wait 15 minutes and then fold each oval lengthwise, sealing the edge, and use cupped fingers to gently roll each piece into a long log. Place the loaves onto a lightly greased or parchment lined (my choice) pan, cover, and let them rise* until they are puffy, but not doubled – this takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rise, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Very gently use a sharp knife or razor to slash 3 diagonal 1/3-inch deep slashes in each loaf. Mist the loaves heavily with warm water (do not skip this).
- Bake baguettes for 22 to 28 minutes, til they’re golden brown. Take the baguettes of the pan and place them right back on the oven rack. Turn off the oven, crack the door open about 2 inches and let the baguettes cool completely in the oven.
- *For extra-crisp baguettes, King Arthur bakers suggest covering the shaped loves and let them rise for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate them overnight. The next day (Day 3!) take them out of the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature, covered for about 3 hours or until they are nice and puffy. Then bake as in Step 4.
With all due respect, Montreal has the best bagels that I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Hands-down. No contest. We always leave Montreal with at least a dozen ready for the freezer as well as a few for the ride home.
Basically, bagel worshippers fall into two very loyal schools regarding which of two Montreal bagel bakers makes the best. My personal favorite is from St. Viateur on the Plateau; however the “other” bagel bakery, Fairmount Bagels, also makes a great Montreal-style bagel.
There is a subtle sweetness to Montreal bagels which comes from malt or other sweeteners in both the dough and the water. The bagels themselves are much less dough-dense than the supermarket or bakery bagels one finds here in New England, and for me, that makes them enjoyable. For purists looking for malt, King Arthur Flour and/or a local beer making supplier should be able to help out.
Since, for the moment, a trip to Montreal is not in our future, I set out to find an authentic Montreal bagel recipe, and thanks to the MTL Blog, found this one on a great Montreal food blog called “My Second Breakfast“. Sami Berger, who write a regular food blog here, suggests at the outset that one can either make the bagels large (yield 12) or smaller (yield 15), but I would suggest that dividing the dough into 18 knobs (yield 18) is just about right for a Montreal sized bagel. The process – start to finish is about 90 minutes.
My Second Breakfast’s Montreal Bagels
Adapted from bigoven.com
- 1-1/2 cups warm water
- 5 TBSP granulated sugar
- 3 TBSP canola oil (I substituted coconut oil, melted)
- 8 grams active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs, divided (1 for the dough, 1 for the egg wash)
- 1 TBSP maple syrup
- 4 to 4-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup poppy seeds OR sesame seeds
- 16 cups water
- 1/3 cup honey
- (for chocolate bagels, add 1/2 cup of chopped dark chocolate or chips) – I love chocolate, but wouldn’t think of doing this to a bagel!
- In a large bowl (I used my mixer and a whisk for steps 1 and 2), whisk together the
warm water, sugar, oil,yeast, egg and syrup Combine until the yeast dissolves.
- Stir in salt and 1 cup of the flour.
- (Now using the mixer’s bread dough hook), add enough flour to make a shaggy, soft dough – about another 3 cups.
- Knead the dough (yes, on the machine!) for about 12 minutes, adding flour as you go (I ended up needing an additional cup of flour, but baking day was a high-humidity day). If you are adding chocolate or raisins, knead in the chunks at the last minute (don’t do that with a machine!).
- Once the dough is smooth and firm, flour the countertop and cover the dough with an inverted bowl. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- Divide the dough into (12/15/18) pieces. Roll each piece into an 8-10 inch rope, then curve each on pressing together the ends to make a bagel shape. Make SURE the ends are firmly stuck together at this point or they will come apart in the boiling process. Note that the bagels will look pretty deformed and the holes will be very big – not to worry!
- Let the shaped dough rest for 30 minutes. About 5 minutes before the dough has finished rising, fill a large pot with water (16 cups) and stir in the honey. Bring that to a boil.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Boil the bagels by placing them in the pot, 3 or 4 at a time – you don’t want the bagels to be over crowded. Boil for 45 seconds on each side (90 seconds total). Remove and let the water drain off onto a clean towel or paper towel.
- Whisk the egg in a small bowl and set the seeds on a small plate.
- Dip the boiled bagels first in egg wash and then coat both sides in seeds. Note that the bagels will tend to get very dark in the areas without seeds so if you plan to leave any “plain” you’ll need to watch them carefully.
- Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes (they should be starting to get golden brown on the side touching the baking tray), then flip and bake another 6-8 minutes until completely lightly golden brown.
- Cool the bagels on a cooling rack.
- Once complete cool, store in a freezer bag for a few days.