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Paul Merry’s baguettes

A late-nineteenth century innovation that became a French staple.

Demi baguettes. Copyright: Victoria Harley

Demi baguettes. Copyright: Victoria Harley

This is the real baguette deal, made using a pre-ferment called a poolish: equal weights of flour and water mixed with a tiny amount of yeast. Paul says, “these light and airy baguettes have so much flavour and aroma. The crisp and delicate crust contains a creamy crumb, with large, random air bubbles.” For this Real Bread you need both a white bread flour with 13–14% protein and a French T55 flour with more like 10% protein.


Makes 5 baguettes or 10 demi baguettes.

For the pre-ferment

250g / 9oz white bread flour
250g / 9oz water
0.5g fresh yeast

For the dough
750g / 1lb 10oz T55 flour
400–450g / 14oz–1lb water (at 20–25°C / 68–77°F)
16g / ½oz fine/table salt
7g fresh yeast

Mix the pre-ferment ingredients together, cover and leave at room temperature for 12–15 hours, typically overnight. It will be ready when it has doubled in size, with myriad bubbles on the surface (in hot weather, use 1g yeast and leave to ferment in the refrigerator).

Add the dough ingredients to the pre-ferment and mix thoroughly. Knead well, cover and leave to rise for about 3 hours, giving the dough a single fold halfway through that time, when it has swelled by about a third and the surface is blistered with tiny bubbles.

When the dough has doubled in size, divide it into 165–170g / 6oz pieces for small loaves or 330–340g / 11½–12oz for large ones. Shape into balls, put on a floured surface, cover and leave for 20 minutes. 

One piece at a time, stretch the dough out gently into a rectangle, then roll it toward you as tightly as possible to make a cylinder. To build up tension on the outer surface, use the heels of your hands to push the dough away from you, as your fingers roll it toward you.

Roll the dough back and forth, moving both hands smoothly from the middle towards the ends, spreading your fingers as you go: you are aiming for a baton of even thickness with round or pointed ends.

Place this seam-side down on a floured tray or in a rucked-up couche cloth, then repeat with the remaining pieces. Cover and leave at room temperature for 45–60 minutes until the dough doesn’t spring back when pressed gently. Heat the oven to 230°C / 210°C fan / 450°F / gas 8, with a baking stone or baking sheet in place.

Slash the top of one piece of dough several times diagonally, holding the blade at a shallow angle to the surface, then slide it onto the baking stone using a well-floured peel. Repeat with as many pieces of dough as the stone can hold, and bake for about 35 minutes until golden, baking any remaining loaves as a second batch.

Baker’s Tip

To get the classic thin, glossy crust, introducing steam at the start of baking is essential.

About the baker

When Slow Dough: Real Bread was published in 2016, Paul Merry had already been involved with Real Bread baking and masonry ovens for over 40 years. After baking in London in the 1970s, he returned to his native Australia and built his first bakery outside Melbourne. Eleven years later, he was back in the UK, working and teaching at The Village Bakery Melmerby, before setting up his own Panary baking and wood-fired oven school and consultancy in Dorset.

Recipe text © Paul Merry.

Taken from Slow Dough: Real Bread by Chris Young, published by Nourish Books.

Reproduction prohibited without written agreement of the copyright holder.

Social sharing

If you make this, please share your photo(s) with the world on social media using #RealBread and other relevant hashtags, linking back to this recipe. Better still if we can see you in the photo, too: #WeAreRealBread!

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Published Thursday 21 March 2024

Real Bread Campaign: The Real Bread Campaign finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Whether your interest is local food, community-focussed small enterprises, honest labelling, therapeutic baking, or simply tasty toast, everyone is invited to become a Campaign supporter.

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