Every time I taste freshly-baked bread I wonder why I don't bake it more often. Then I look around at the counter, bowls and hands covered in a gloopy mess and I remember. This baguette recipe from Dan Leader makes three delicious crusty loaves. I didn't get them to rise as much as I thought they should, and one of mine was a bit misshapen, but otherwise I declare the experiment a success! I even kneaded the dough by hand when I usually go with the less messy mixer method.
The hands on work for this project is minimal, but you need almost a full day waiting for the dough to rise at each stage. It's called a 4-hour baguette, but it took more like 6 hours for me from first mix to first bite. Still, that was only about an hour of hands-on time, with delicious results.
And, you can't beat the ingredients list. Flour, water, yeast & salt. That's it. Baking bread is magic in that way. The simplest ingredients turn into something so fantastic with just mixing and time.
Aside from the basic ingredients, you need a few other items to make this work. A kitchen scale is a big help because baking works better when ingredients are weighed. You'll also need parchment paper, a baking stone or inverted baking sheet, a cast iron pan, and a pair of scissors.
1 1/2 cups (340g) water at 115 degrees F (my hot tap water comes out at that temp)
1 teaspoon (3.5g) active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups (416g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (5g) kosher salt
1/2 cup ice cubes
Whisk the warm water and yeast together and let sit for about 10 minutes until foamy. I used instant yeast and it didn't get too foamy. Next time I'd try regular yeast.
Stir the flour into the yeast mixture with a fork until it forms into a dough and all the flour is absorbed. Let it sit for about 20 minutes.
Add the salt and place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It should be nice and smooth.
Lightly grease a large bowl with vegetable oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and place the bowl in a cold oven to rise for 45 minutes until doubled in size.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface once again.
Fold the dough over itself twice. Return to the bowl, cover and return to the cold oven for another hour.
Remove the dough from the oven. Place the empty cast iron pan on the bottom oven rack and an inverted baking pan on the middle rack. Preheat the oven to 475 F with the pans inside.
On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces.
Roll each piece into a 14-inch long log. And place on a piece of floured parchment on another upside down baking sheet. Make sure the parchment is well floured.
Lift the parchment between the dough logs to form pleats to keep the loafs from sticking to each other.
Roll up two dish towels and tuck them on either side of the parchment so the loaves will rise upwards, not sideways. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for about an hour.
I didn't use enough flour when rolling out the loaves, so I ended up with one sticky one that kind of flattened itself. It still tasted good but didn't rise like the others.
Now use the scissors to snip four slits into each baguette.
Slide the parchment onto the upside down baking sheet in the hot oven and pour the ice cubes into the cast iron pan. Close the oven door right away and set the timer for 20 minutes. The ice cubes will steam and help the bread to rise more as the crust forms.
Check the baguettes after 20 minutes and rotate them. Continue baking until they are brown and crusty on the outside, about another 10 minutes.
Remove the baguettes from the oven and let them cool. I thought three
I thought three baguettes would be way too much, but they weren't all that big and they were so very tasty. We managed to polish off more than one the first day. I wrapped the third one in foil and it kept well overnight.
It's pretty amazing to make these wonderful baguettes out of basically flour and water. They're terrific with butter or cheese or even just plain. A great project for a lazy day at home.