So I've been trying for literally years to perfect my baguettes at home (as I obviously don't have a commercial oven available to me. I think after all this time I've just about reached the pinnacle, and am consistently turning out excellent bakes - and the best part is it takes hardly any time! I've included my ratios and notes in case you want to experiment.
Here's what I do:
+ Greaseproof paper - it must be real non-stick, I have cheap stuff but it hasn't stuck, although the previous cheap stuff (different brand) was AWFUL.
+ Bread stone - I got mine from a DIY store, an UNFINISHED terracottta-type quarry tile (the 'finished' tiles have a lead-containing lacquer on them, not conducive to good health I'm assured!).
+ Sprayer - a detergent-style bottle that produces a fine mist.
+ Old sheet or duvet cut into a strip a little wider than the stone and pretty long as there'll be several baguettes and you need the space to proof them.
+ Pyrex or ceramic dish.
375g strong white flour (3/4 of the total flour amount) - this will form the structure for your bread as the glutens align together over a relatively long proofing/proving time.
125g plain flour (1/4 of the total flour amount) - the low gluten content dilutes the glutens of the strong flour allowing for a less dense loaf.
275g cold water (55% hydration - which is 55% of the total flour amount).
12g fresh yeast (you don't need to adjust this much unless drastically altering quantities).
12g salt (adjust depending on the saltiness of your salt, mine is based on basic cooking salt).
1. Sift flour into a large bowl. Take a portion of the water and dissolve the yeast (roughly, it's not too critical) in it, then add to the flour. Add the salt to the remaining water and stir to dissolve before adding into the flour. Mix until it's started to form a rough ball which looks too dry. Tip out onto a surface and knead enough to incorporate everything, but you don't need to go for 5 or 10 mins, usually about 1 will do. Return to the bowl, cover with cling film or a plastic bag and leave overnight in a cool place to rise - I usually put mine on at about 22:30 ready for approximately 06:30 the next day. The long proofing time gives the gluten molecules in the flour the chance to naturally align themselves, and the next morning you will be surprised at the change in consistency overnight.
2. (Next morning) Put your bread stone in the oven, as close to the top as possible while allowing for the bread to rise in the oven. Turn your oven on to max - approx. 230 degrees C and place the pyrex or ceramic dish in the bottom where it can be easily reached - you will be pouring water in here shortly. Boil a kettle.
3. Lay your sheet out and flour the first bit of it well - I prop up one end with a rolling pin so the bread will have some resistance when rising, but anything long enough will do. Once you have done this, get your dough and scrape onto a VERY lightly floured work-surface. Knock the air out of it and then weigh out into equal portions of approx 200g. Pinch the corners and pull them into the middle, pressing firmly. This should leave one side with a small seam and the other (the bottom side) with a smooth surface and a rough square shape of dough. Flatten out and put to the side while you do the next.
4. When you have your dough squares all complete, starting with the first one, flatten a good deal, then lay your left thumb parallel to your chest about 1/3 of the way into the square. With your right hand, pull the far side over the top of your thumb, like you're forming a tunnel and press firmly into place, repeat along the length until you have a sort of dough tunnel. Squish the edge closest to you down a bit more for good measure and repeat the process - you should feel that the dough is tighter this time. When you've done it the second time, roll it so the seam is on the bottom, then put to the side while you repeat the process with your other dough pieces.
5. Take your first baguette and carefully roll it out a little further (but not longer than the bread stone), tapering the ends to points. Place onto your lined sheet, then pinch the sheet 2 inches further on, on either side, lifting to form a barrier for the dough. Flour the next section and repeat the process until you have your baguettes neatly packed in the sheet with a sheet barrier between them and tight enough so they need to rise and not spread. Fold the remainder of your sheet over the top and leave to rise while the oven comes to temperature.
6. When the oven has been at max temp for a few minutes and is stabilising there, take an upturned baking tray and put your greaseproof on the back (so there's no lip stopping it sliding off). Re-boil the kettle. Pour the boiling water into the dish in the bottom of the oven, being as quick as you can so you preserve the heat - you NEED the most heat you can get. Let the oven reheat for five minutes.
7. Gently transfer the baguettes to the greaseproof - you can lift them but do it with both hands and be gentle. Slash them well several times, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep is fine. Live them up.
8. PLEASE BE CAREFUL - THE OVEN IS FULL OF SCALDING STEAM - stand back when opening the door!!! Slide the greaseproof sheet with baguettes onto the bread stone, being as quick as you can - keep that precious heat. Allow to cook for a few minutes before quickly spraying the inside of the oven with water. It should take about 10 minutes to cook from start to finish.
9. When the baguettes are good and dark then slide the greaseproof back onto the baking tray to remove from the oven, then remove the baguettes and place on a wire rack to cool a bit - you'll hear it 'talking' to you as it cools and cracks. Ideally serve whil warn and fresh, these don't keep incredibly well, but then again they don't need to!!
Please give me feedback, as I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences. I'm aware I've not invented any techniques here, just amalgamated techniques and recipes to come up with very good bread every time. Enjoy.
Edited by StuartScholes - 4/21/14 at 2:35pm