A crisp, crunchy crust and slightly chewy center make this bread as traditional as the breads served in France.
3 cups pate fermentee
1 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, lukewarm
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
- Remove the pate fermentee from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.
- To make the dough, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, and pate fermentee. Add the water. Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.
- Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter. Knead the dough as long as it takes to create a soft and flexible, tacky but not sticky, and all pre-ferment is evenly distributed.
- Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size. If the dough doubles in size before 2 hours have elapsed, knead it lightly and let it rise again, covered, until it doubles from the original size.
- Gently remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured counter. For baguettes, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces. Again, take care to degas the dough as little as possible. To form the pieces into baguettes, cease the dough down the middle and fold it. Seal the crease against the counter to create surface tension. Working from the center of the loaf and moving to the outside edges, gently but firmly rock and rollout the dough to extend it to desired length. Set the baguette aside for proofing.
- Proof at room temperature for 45 to 75 minutes, or until the loaves have grown to about 1 1/2 times their original size. They should be slightly springy when poked with a finger.
- Preheat the oven to 500°F and make sure to have an empty steam pan in place.
- Generously dust the sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and very gently transfer the baguettes to the pan. Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door, spray the side walls of the oven with water, and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, turn the oven setting down to 450°F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the baguettes 180 degree, if necessary, for even baking and continue baking for 10 to 20 minutes longer, depending on your oven and how thin your baguettes are.
- Remove the baguettes from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.
Source: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart