As I’ve said elsewhere, making baguettes that rival the best that bakeries have to offer is challenging, but it’s a fun challenge to attempt, and even less-than-perfect results will be better than anything you can get at a supermarket. Some of the challenges are overcome by memorizing and perfecting the many steps involved, which takes time and practice. Others involve simply investing in all the many tools baguettes require. While you can make an excellent boule-shaped loaf of bread using little more than a colander, a clean kitchen towel, a sharp knife, and a cast iron Dutch oven, all of which most cooks have on hand already, baguettes require speciality tools to pull off successfully. Fortunately, none are terribly expensive, and most are useful for making other sorts of breads too (and a few are things you might already have on hand). Here’s an inventory of everything you need to make baguettes at home.
A digital scale (or two!)
Baguettes, like other bread and baking recipes, require precise measuring of ingredients, which means you’ll want an accurate digital scale to make these. Most people can get by with a standard tabletop scale that reads in grams and weighs quantities up to 11 pounds. But serious bread bakers might also want to invest in an inexpensive pocket jeweler's scale, since those are far more accurate when measuring sub-5-gram amounts of things, like yeast, salt, and diastatic malt powder.
A 13- by 9-inch rectangular cake pan
It's important that the dough you use to make baguettes starts out in a more-or-less rectangular shape. When professional bakers make them, 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. To achieve a similar effect at home, I like to cold-proof my 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 fairly uniform pieces when it is turned out of the pan and onto a floured countertop later on. (You can also use any similarly-sized container, if you have one, like a rectangular snap-top plastic storage container.)
A bench scraper
To divide the dough into portions and to move the dough pieces around gently enough to avoid marring their shape, you want to use a metal bench scraper. (Bench scrapers are also useful for, well, scraping benches, something you’ll have to do once all the baguettes are in the oven.)
“Artisan“-style breads are usually proofed upside-down, in containers that help them hold their final shape (without the container, doughs will spread out as they proof and go blobby). Baguettes are usually proofed in 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.
Couches come in a variety of lengths and widths, but it is important to find one sized appropriately. 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.
A clean, plastic garbage bag
To keep doughs and shaped loaves from drying out as they rest or proof, bakeries keep them on rolling racks, covered with plastic. At home, you can use a clean plastic garbage bag instead. I keep a couple of them rolled up with my baking tools and reuse them over and over again. (The bag never touches the loaves directly, so there's no need for concern about food safety or to clean them afterwards.)
Proofed baguettes ready to bake are too floppy and fragile to move to a baking peel. Instead, you need to use a thin, stiff, beveled-edge wooden board known as a transfer peel (or a "flipper board," as they are sometimes called). 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.
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.) Most lames use replaceable, disposable double-edged shaving razor blades, which you can find at any drugstore. Be sure to start with a brand-new razor blade for maximum sharpness because razor blades dull far more quickly than you'd think; replace the blade regularly too. Lames are available at baking specialty stores or online.
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 really recommend using a baking steel for baguettes. Steels are great baking tools because they are more conductive than stone and push heat more rapidly into the loaf. But with fast-cooking baguettes, this can be a liability, since they can burn before they are fully baked. 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 at the tail end of the bake.
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. Steaming round or long-but-compact loaves in a home oven is easy to do by baking them inside of a Dutch oven or a dedicated bread pot—the container corrals moisture that evaporates from the dough, enveloping the loaf with steam—but there are no similar options that can comfortably hold a 14ish-inch long baguette. My workaround is to instead bake the baguettes underneath an upside-down disposable 17- by 13-inch turkey roasting pan wrapped tightly with aluminum foil. (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.)
You'll also need a wide, flat pizza peel to load and unload the baguettes to and from the oven. While 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, since it is lightweight and thin enough to slip under breads easily. In a pinch, a rimless cookie sheet can work quite well, though it obviously lacks the handle you get with a dedicated peel.
Diastatic malt powder
While baguettes can be made with flours, salt, and instant yeast that you can find in most supermarkets, and water from the tap, there is one optional specialty ingredient you might want to get your hands on: 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, is an enzyme made from malted barley or wheat that breaks down starches into simple sugars. 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 and rapid browning during baking.
A little bit of diastatic malt goes a long way, so buy it in small quantities if you can. And it loses enzymatic activity over time, especially when exposed to moisture or heat, so store it in a sealable container like a mason jar in a cool spot (or even in the freezer).
How do you make baguettes at home?
We have a step-by-step recipe for homemade baguettes that can be found here.
Do you need a baking stone or steel for baguettes?
For baking baguettes, we recommend getting a baking stone, not a steel. A baking steel will push too much heat into a baguette, which will cause it to burn before it bakes through.