Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2 by Julia Child and Simone Beck, with ideas from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.
Do not try this recipe unless (1) you have a good bread book, or (2) you have plenty of rustic bread experience. You have been warned!
You should start this recipe about ten hours before you want the bread to come out of the oven. Note that bread should rest at least 30 minutes after being taken out of the oven (two hours is best). At room temperature, the bread will last 24-48 hours before it starts to go stale. To make it last longer, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. The bread will completely thaw in about two hours at room temperature. For quick warming after freezing, wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
Each baguette below contains appx. 4 oz. of flour or appx. 400 caloires.
Ingredients: 8 oz. AP flour, 8 oz. Bread flour, 4 t. Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, 1 t. instant yeast, 1 3/4 c. room-temperature water. Extra flour as necessary.
Dry ingredients should be mixed together before adding water. You can mix in a bowl or on a counter. I use my granite counter. To mix on a counter, arrange the flour into a circular "wall"; carefully pour the water in the middle. The flour should retain the water. With one hand, gradually integrate flour into the pool of water; continue integrating until you get a ball of dough. Use the other hand to add flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Dough should have an internal stickyness.
Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it is well integrated. After kneading, dough should "bounce back" when poked; if not, you haven't kneaded enough.
Use a paper towel and a few drops of oil to lightly coat a 12 cup (or larger) bowl. Put the dough in the bowl and cover. Let rise for 3-5 hours.
Notes: Microwave cold water for 65 secs to bring to room temperature. Halve the salt amount for table salt. If the bowl doesn't have its own cover, use plastic wrap. For more even holes, use 16 oz. AP flour (and no bread flour). Also, cook for an extra 2 minutes.
Equipment: floured (aka seasoned) piece of canvas (2'x3'), AP flour, plastic wrap, baking stone.
Remove dough to floured counter and cut into quarters. Fold each quarter over on itself, let rest for 5 minutes. Lay out canvas on counter. Follow Julia's loaf-forming steps (pgs. 62-64). Place each loaf seam-side down on the canvas, bunching canvas between the loaves to separate. Sprinkle flour over the loaves and cover the loaves with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1.5-2.5 hours. With 30 minutes to go, place a rack in lowest position in oven; remove other racks; place baking stone on rack, set oven to 500F (or highest setting).
Equipment: large cookie sheet (e.g. 16"x20"), parchment paper, rice flour, bread board (e.g. 30"x6"x.2"), razor blade, 6-8 ice cubes.
Cut a piece of parchment paper long enough to cover the length of the cookie sheet. Lay the paper on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle rice flour liberally on the parchment paper (will help baguettes slide onto baking stone).
Remove the plastic wrap and straighten-out the canvas (creating space between the baguettes). Transfer baguettes one-at-a-time to the parchment paper using the bread board. Place the board next to a baguette. Use the canvas to flip the baguette onto the board (seam-side-up). Roll baguette onto parchment paper (seam-side-down).
Optionally, slash baguettes (3 lengthwise cuts each) with a razor blade. Drop the ice cubes on the bottom of the oven (to create steam). Wait one minute, then slide baguettes onto baking stone. After 10 minutes, turn down the oven to 450F, and crack open oven door for 20 seconds to let out steam. If the loaves are arranged unevenly, this is a good point at which to rearrange them a bit.
After 14-15 minutes, or when light brown, rotate outer baguettes. Baguettes will be done after 19-21 minutes. Crust should be medium brown with some lighter and darker spots.
Notes: A plastic cutting board can substitute for the bread board. For more crusty bread, bake at 500F for about 18 minutes. Corn meal may be substituted for rice flour.
Let bread cool on a rack for 1-2 hours. Will stay without preservation for about 12 hours before it begins to go stale. To preserve a loaf, wrap it in plastic and store it in the freezer. Remove from the freezer 2 hours before eating. Alternatively, wrap in aluminum foil and warm in 400F oven for 15-20 minutes.