by Libbie Summers
Photography by Chia Chong
I put my baguettes in the refrigerator overnight to do a cold fermentation. It’s less messy and I think the dough holds its shape better . . . and those are the only reasons why. The taste is the same. The only thing to be cautious about is not to use too much pressure when you do the final shaping of the refrigerated dough—like a short Frenchman, you don’t want to squeeze out all the hot air/gas.
(a shorter baguette)
What you need:
2 cups warm water (about 95° F)
2 1⁄2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt
5 1⁄2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
Vegetable oil, for the bowl
What to do:
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put the water and yeast and stir until just combined. Add the salt and flour and mix on low speed just until the dough forms an ugly ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes, until the dough is smooth and tacky, but not too sticky (see Note). You can adjust the flour or water here as needed. (If the dough is too dry, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too wet, add more bread flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.) Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
Oil the inside of a large mixing bowl with the oil and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for 1 minute. Transfer the dough to the oiled mixing bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Punch the dough down with your fist if it starts creeping over the top of the bowl.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you want to bake the loaves. Being careful not to deflate the dough too much, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and divide into four equal portions.
Line a baking sheet with a large kitchen towel that has been lightly dusted with flour. Set aside.
Form the four dough portions into baguettes by first shaping the dough into a thick rectangle about 14 by 6 inches. Fold the bottom half of the longer side of the rectangle to the center
of the dough and press with your fingers to hold it in place. Next fold the top half to the center and press it with your fingertips to seal the seam you have created. Roll the bottom
of the dough over the top, creating a new seam on the underside. Gently rock the dough back and forth while moving your hands out toward both ends. This lengthens the baguette. Apply a little more pressure at the ends to taper the dough slightly. Repeat the rocking motion as many times as necessary until the baguette is about 16 inches long by 21⁄2 inches wide.
Transfer the baguette to the floured cloth and repeat the shaping process with the remaining pieces of dough. Tuck folds of the floured cloth around the sides of the loaves to help support the dough as it rises and to help separate the baguettes. Oil the underside of a piece of plastic wrap and loosely cover the loaves with it. Let sit at room temperature for 90 minutes, until the loaves have not quite doubled in size. The dough will increase 11⁄2 to 13⁄4 times in size. (As with many things in
life, here size does matter.)
About 45 minutes before baking, preheat your oven as high as it will go. Place a baking stone or an overturned heavy-duty baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and place a cast-iron skillet on the lowest shelf or on the floor of the oven.
Remove the plastic wrap from the dough. Using a sharp razor or serrated knife at a 30-degree angle to the loaf, make 4 or 5 equidistant slashes, 4 inches long and 1⁄2 inch deep, in the top of each baguette. Transfer each baguette to the hot baking stone or baking sheet (don’t worry if they collapse a bit, they will spring back while baking). Spritz the baguettes lightly with water and place 1 cup ice cubes in the cast-iron skillet.
Lower the oven temperature to 450° F. Bake the baguettes for 30 minutes, or until the crust is a dark golden brown and the loaves sound hollow if you give them a thump. Let cool for
at least 30 minutes before serving.