Listen closely -- you can hear this crackly-crisp bread "sing" as it cools! Step-by-step photos illustrating how to make these baguettes are available at Bakers’ Banter, our King Arthur blog.
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cool water
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Unbleached Bread Flour
1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
All of the starter
1 teaspoon instant yeast or 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water*
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Unbleached Bread Flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
*If you use bread flour, increase the water to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9 ounces).
The Starter: Mix the starter ingredients together till smooth, cover, and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight is good.
Preparing the Dough: If you're using active dry yeast (rather than instant), mix it with the lukewarm water; if you're using instant yeast, there's no need to do this. Combine the starter, yeast, water, flour, and salt, and mix and knead them together -- by hand, mixer or bread machine -- till you've made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface should still be a bit rough. Allow the dough to rise, covered with lightly greased plastic wrap, for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased or floured work surface. Divide the dough into three pieces. Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel or edge of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again. With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15" log . Place the logs in the folds of a floured couche or floured cotton dish towel, which you've set onto a sheet pan or pans. Or place them directly onto the pan (lightly greased or parchment-lined). Cover them with a proof cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they have become quite puffy, but haven't doubled in size; this will take about 60 to 90 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 450°F; if you're using a baking stone, place it on the lowest shelf. Roll the risen baguettes from the couche onto the lightly greased or parchment-lined pan of your choice -- or onto a peel, if you're baking directly on the stone. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust. Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8” vertical slashes in each baguette. Place the baguettes in the oven.
Bake the baguettes for about 25 minutes, until they're a deep, golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2 inches, and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven. Yield: Three 16” baguettes.
To make stuffed baguettes: Divide the dough into six pieces. Flatten each piece into a 5" square. Layer with the stuffing of your choice—a slice or two of ham or salami, some cheese, mustard—and roll up like a jelly roll, pinching the ends and the side seam closed. Finish as directed above, letting them rise, then baking in a 425°F oven for about 25 minutes, until they're golden brown. Yield: six stuffed baguettes.
This recipe reprinted from The Baker's Catalogue, Spring through Summer 2001.
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