Baguettes with a light crisp crust, fluffy creamy crumb, and authentic flavor are within reach! Actually, it could hardly be simpler. Make the dough ahead and allow it to age in the refrigerator up to four days, gaining flavor all the while. Bake a fresh loaf for dinner– or brunch! My family especially enjoys tearing a loaf in hunks and dipping it in balsamic vinegar and olive oil with sprigs of fresh rosemary. See How to Sew a Muslin Bread Bag for directions on making the cute fabric bag seen above.
24 oz. (5 1/3 cups) bread flour
.5 oz. (2 tsp) sea salt
.24 oz. (2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
16 oz. (2 cups) lukewarm water
Do ahead ~
Set a lightweight bowl on kitchen scale and hit tare button to zero out. Measure ingredients by weight, or use measuring cups. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl on low speed with paddle attachment. Mix for 1 minute, until smooth. (Or mix by hand with a Danish dough whisk or wooden spoon). Cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes. Knead with dough hook or by hand 2 minutes. Dough should be smooth and supple, slightly tacky. Transfer to a lightly oiled lidded container with room for expansion. Store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.
Baking day ~
1. Remove dough from fridge about 2 hours before you plan to bake. Gently tip dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide into portions as desired by weighing: 10 oz. = baguette or batard, 18 oz. = boule. Shape as desired on a piece of parchment paper, handling carefully to avoid deflating the dough. Mist tops lightly with spray oil and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature about 1 1/2 hours, until increased in size by 1 1/2 times.
2. Meanwhile, prepare oven for hearth baking (see Hearth Baking). Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. with a baking stone positioned on a rack 1/3 up from the floor of the oven and an empty broiler pan on a rack 1/3 down from the top of the oven.
3. Just before baking, remove plastic wrap and slash loaves 1/2-inch deep to allow for expansion (oven spring).
Mist loaves with clean water. Using a baker’s peel or rimless baking sheet, slide loaves along with parchment paper onto hot baking stone. Quickly and carefully add 1 cup hot water to broiler pan. Immediately close the oven to trap steam.
4. Bake 12 minutes, rotate loaves for even baking, and then bake another 15 minutes, until richly browned and internal temperature measures 200 degrees F when a digital thermometer is inserted in the center of the loaf.
5. Cool on wire rack 30 – 45 minutes before slicing.