Yes, I know what I’ve been saying about baguettes, that they’re the ultimate “fast” bread, that bakeries whip them out in as little as four hours. The thing is, that’s only true if you’ve got your preferments on-hand and ready to go (like full-time bakeries do). Home bakers need to mix up their preferments a day ahead, let them mature overnight, then mix, raise and shape their dough the next day. I also suggest another overnight rest for your baguettes to develop even more flavor, though that’s not strictly necessary.
So really, if you had the preferments on-hand (some old dough in the freezer, plus, say, some well-fed sourdough starter that you could refresh early in the morning on the day of the bake), you could theoretically do these in an afternoon. More time makes better bread, however. Up to you.
This recipe is designed to yield three small, 7-ounce baguettes, plus give you 5 ounces of leftover “old” dough that you can stash in the freezer and use the next time. What follows is my recommendation for what I think is the best possible baguette, but by all means do your own interpretation. Here’s the formula:
9 ounces bread flour
Scant ¼ teaspoon (0.6 grams) instant yeast
4.5 ounces lukewarm water
Either 7.5 ounces refreshed and bubbly sourdough starter (instructions to the right) or 7.5 ounces poolish preferment (instructions also to the right).
5 ounces old dough (pâte fermentée)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
And here are the procedures:
Make up your old dough and your poolish, OR refresh your starter.
Put the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix 15 seconds to combine. Add the water and poolish (or starter) and mix for 30 seconds to moisten all the ingredients. Let stand for 20 minutes.
Then, rip up your old dough into several pieces and add them to the bowl with the salt. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not too sticky. Add a little extra flour if necessary.
Put the dough into an oiled dough rising container and let rise until doubled, anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on whether you’ve used the poolish or the sourdough starter. Cut the dough into 7-ounces pieces, reserving the leftover 5-ounce piece for your next batch. Shape the larger pieces into small torpedoes, and let them rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. With the edge of your hand, using a gentle karate-chop motion, make a trench down the middle of each oblong loaf. Fold the lower half up, and the top half down, so as to create surface tension on the outside skin of the dough. Pinch the dough closed along the seam, then gently roll the dough out to a length of about 8 inches. Let rest 10 minutes, again to relax the dough, then roll the baguettes out to a full 12-14 inches. Lay the loaves out on a baguette pan and spritz lightly with water.
Now then, here’s the point of decision. You can either preheat your oven to 500 and let the baguettes proof for 30 – 45 minutes and then bake them, or you can park them in the fridge (retard them) for better flavor. If you plan to retard them, do it for a minimum of 5 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat your oven to 500. Remove the baguettes from the fridge, spritz them with water again and let them proof for about 1 ½ hours, until a bit puffier than they were when they came out (they will have risen some in the fridge). Slash them with a sharp knife to allow for expansion, spritz once more with water, and bake according to the directions in the post How to Make Your Home Oven More Like a Brick Oven for 20 minutes. Open the oven, rotate the pan, and bake another 5-10 minutes until they’re well browned.
Set on a rack and allow them to cool completely before going and getting out the really good butter.