Last weekend, I was in a baking mood. I find baking very therapeutic, and wish I had more time to devote to it. This is a fabulous recipe that results in thin and crisp baguettes, but you do have to plan ahead for it. I started it on Saturday morning, and finally baked them on Sunday afternoon, as the recipe calls for not one but two eight hour rises. There is a shockingly minute amount of yeast, so the excessive proofing time is quite necessary. In addition, the extra time develops a fantastic flavor, and makes the wait totally worth it. The recipe came from How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri.
Confession: Stephan and I ate an entire hot baguette… standing in the kitchen… in less than 2 minutes… snort!
1 c warm tap water (about 110 degrees)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
All the sponge, above,
1 to 1 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
One heavy sheet pan or jelly roll pan, dusted with cornmeal
1. To make the sponge, pour the water into a 3 quart mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on the surface. Add the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until it forms a heavy paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, until the sponge has doubled, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
2. For the dough, place the sponge, 1 cup of flour and the salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed to form a smooth, elastic and slightly sticky dough, about 5 minutes. Incorporate the remaining flour, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too soft.
3. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough over so the top is oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until the dough has doubled, about 1 hour or so.
4. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and deflate the dough by folding it over on itself 5 or 6 times. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover again with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and deflate the dough as in step 4 above. Divide the dough into three equal pieces (about 7 ounces each). Cover two pieces loosely with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a sphere by tucking the bottom under and in towards the center all around. Press and stretch the ball into a 12 x 6 inch rectangle. Working with the long edge, fold the dough in thirds. Pinch to seal the seam. Use the side of your hand to press a depression lengthwise down the center of the dough. Pinch the sides of the depression together so the dough forms a tight cylinder, then roll the cylinder back and forth under your palms to lengthen it. Extend the ends slightly so they form points. Arrange the loaves seam side down on the prepared pan. Dust the loaves very lightly with flour and cover them with a piece of oiled plastic wrap or a lightly floured towel, then allow to rise until the loaves have doubled in volume, about 1 hour or so.
6. About 30 minutes before you intend to bake the loaves, set the racks at the middle and lowest levels of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Set a pan on the lowest rack. You will pour water into it to make it steam during the initial part of the baking.
7. Open the oven, then averting your face, quickly pour a cup of hot water into the hot pan. Close the oven door for one minute. Use a razor blade or the point of a very sharp knife to make 3 to 4 diagonal slashes across each loaf. Avert your face again and immediately place the pan with the slashed loaves in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees. In 10 minutes, pour another 1/2 cup of hot water into the pan.
8. About 20 minutes after the loaves have gone into the oven, remove the water pan and lower the temperature again to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes longer, or until the bread is well risen and a dark golden color. It should reach an internal temperature of about 210 degrees.
9. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack.
Makes 3 7-Ounce Baguettes