Why this recipe works The French word ficelle means “string,” thus the loaf that takes this name resembles a long, skinny, stick-like baguette made from a “string” of dough. Because it is so thin, a loaf of ficelle maximizes the ratio of crackly crust to tender, chewy interior, making it perfect for slicing for hors d’oeuvres, dipping in oil, or cutting down the middle to make elegant sandwiches. As a starting point, we scaled down our Bakery-Style French Baguette recipe—and eliminated the whole-wheat flour—to make four petite sticks. Ficelles are sometimes rolled in seeds before being proofed and baked, and we liked the crunch and flavor that a mixture of poppy, sesame, and fennel seeds provided. Since these small loaves bake through quickly, we once again added a small amount of diastatic malt powder to boost exterior browning during the loaves’ short stint in the oven. And although we typically take the temperature of our breads to help assess doneness, we chose to forgo using a thermometer here—these loaves are so thin that it’s difficult to insert the probe into them and get an accurate reading. Instead, we relied on a clear visual cue: When the loaves are deep golden brown and the crust is dry and crackly, they’re done baking. If you can’t find King Arthur all-purpose flour, you can substitute bread flour. This recipe makes enough dough for four loaves, which can be baked anytime during the 16- to 48-hour window after placing the dough in the refrigerator in step 2. The ficelles are best eaten within 4 hours of baking.
- makes 4 loaves
- resting time 1 to 1½ hours
- rising time 18½ to 19 hours
- baking time 13 minutes
- total time 21¼ to 22¼ hours, plus 15 minutes cooling time
- key equipment 2 rimmed baking sheets, couche, water-filled spray bottle, baking stone, pizza peel, flipping board, lame, 2 (16 by 12-inch) disposable aluminum roasting pans
- 2 cups (10 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
- ¾ teaspoon diastatic malt powder (optional)
- 1 cup (8 ounces) water, room temperature
- 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1). Whisk flour, salt, yeast, and malt powder, if using, together in bowl of stand mixer. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add water to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, 5 to 7 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for 30 minutes.
2). Using greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 45 degrees and fold dough again; repeat turning bowl and folding dough 6 more times (total of 8 folds). Cover tightly with plastic and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding and rising every 30 minutes, 3 more times. After fourth set of folds, cover bowl tightly with plastic and refrigerate for at least 16 hours or up to 48 hours.
3). Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, press into 8-inch square (do not deflate), and divide in half. Return 1 piece of dough to bowl, cover tightly with plastic, and refrigerate (dough can be shaped and baked anytime within 48-hour window). Divide remaining dough in half crosswise, transfer to lightly floured rimmed baking sheet, and cover loosely with greased plastic. Let rest until no longer cool to touch, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
4). Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (keep remaining piece covered), roll into loose 3- to 4-inch-long cylinder on lightly floured counter. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
5). Combine poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds in bowl. Spread half of seed mixture on second rimmed baking sheet; reserve remaining seed mixture for second half of dough. Mist underside of couche with water, drape over rimmed baking sheet that has been inverted, and dust evenly with flour.
6). Gently press 1 dough cylinder into 6 by 4-inch rectangle on lightly floured counter, with long side parallel to counter edge. Fold upper quarter of dough toward center and press gently to seal. Rotate dough 180 degrees and repeat folding step to form 8 by 2-inch rectangle.
7). Fold dough in half toward you, using thumb of your other hand to create crease along center of dough, sealing with heel of your hand as you work your way along loaf. Without pressing down on loaf, use heel of your hand to reinforce seal (do not seal ends of loaf).
8). Cup your hand over center of dough and roll dough back and forth gently to tighten (it should form dog-bone shape). Starting at center of dough and working toward ends, gently and evenly roll and stretch dough until it measures 15 inches long by 1 inch wide. Moving your hands in opposite directions, use back and forth motion to roll ends of loaf under your palms to form sharp points.
9). Mist loaf with water on all sides and roll in seed mixture, pressing gently to adhere.
10). Transfer loaf seam side up to prepared couche. On either side of loaf, pinch edges of couche into pleat, then cover loosely with large plastic garbage bag.
11). Redistribute seeds on sheet into even layer. Repeat steps 6 through 10 with remaining piece of dough and place on opposite side of pleat. Fold edges of couche over loaves to cover completely, then carefully place sheet inside plastic bag. Tie, or fold under, open end of bag to fully enclose. Let loaves rise until nearly doubled in size and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 30 minutes to 1 hour (remove from bag to test with knuckle).
12). One hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Line pizza peel with 16 by 12-inch piece of parchment paper, with long edge of paper perpendicular to handle. Unfold couche, pulling from ends to remove pleats. Gently pushing with side of flipping board, roll 1 loaf over, away from other loaf, so it is seam side down.
13). Using your hand, hold long edge of flipping board between loaf and couche at 45-degree angle, then lift couche with your other hand and flip loaf seam side up onto board.
14). Invert loaf seam side down onto prepared pizza peel, about 2 inches from long edge of parchment, then use flipping board to straighten loaf. Repeat with remaining loaf, leaving at least 3 inches between loaves.
15). Holding lame concave side up at 30-degree angle to loaf, make three 4-inch-long, ½-inch-deep slashes with swift, fluid motion along length of loaf. Repeat with second loaf.
16). Slide parchment with loaves onto baking stone. Cover loaves with stacked inverted disposable pans and bake for 5 minutes. Carefully remove pans, rotate loaves, and continue to bake until loaves are deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer loaves to wire rack, discard parchment, and let cool for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
problem The seed coating is uneven.
solution Spray all sides of the loaf with water.
Rolling the ficelle in a mixture of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds gives these skinny baguettes a distinctive crust. To ensure an even coating of seeds, make sure that you mist all sides of the dough—not just the top—with water so that the seed mixture adheres after you roll the loaves in it.
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