I’ve always wanted to be really good at baking bread, so last spring I was excited to attend a four-day bread class taught by expert baker Richard Bertinet in Bath, England. In Richard’s class, you learn to love sticky dough, and love it you must, because in mastering his technique, the dough ends up everywhere: on the walls, the ceiling, your hair, your glasses, and your classmates.
In his class, Richard taught us to “work,” not knead, the dough. For him, “knead” is a naughty word, because it means pushing air out of the dough and incorporating more flour. In his method, you use your hands to stretch and aerate the dough without working in any extra flour. This method produces a bakery-quality baguette with a light, airy texture and a crisp crust.
To bring this delicious bread to your kitchen, I’ve incorporated Richard’s teachings into a recipe that works well in a home kitchen, while simplifying a few of the trickier parts. If you’ve been intimidated by the thought of baking bread, take heart: It’s not hard, especially if you follow these steps:
Cheat—use a stand mixer. In class, we worked the dough by hand to get a feel for it. But fortunately for those who can’t take a class in England (and don’t want sticky dough all over the kitchen), there’s another way to work the dough—in a stand mixer. Call it cheating, but using the mixer is easier, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can be sure that, with the large amount of dough used every day in a bakery, most professional bakers don’t work their dough by hand.
Make minis. If you make six small baguettes, you get more practice than when you make just one, and a mistake is less tragic if you have five more chances to get it right. Minis also take less time to bake and are easier to form and handle.