As I mentioned earlier, a great baguette, at least for the home baker, is a journey and not a destination. Still, I’ll have my journey slathered with plenty of raspberry jam, thank you very much. Am I still finding my way toward my perfect baguette? Most certainly, but the following method yields a baguette that it very, very good.
Begin by combining your poolish (or starter) and flour and instant yeast in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle. (You can whisk the dry ingredients together first if you wish).
Turn the mixer on and stir the ingredients, then add the water and continue to stir until all the ingredients are moistened. Let this mixture sit for 20 minutes.
Next, add your old dough pieces and salt to the heap. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5-7 minutes.
Your dough should be firm and smooth, yet still a little tacky to the touch.
Put the dough into a rising container and let sit for 2-4 hours, until doubled in bulk.
Weigh out your pieces (oops, too heavy…it’s SEVEN ounces you dolt!). Don’t forget to reserve five ounces for the freezer. What, you’ll want to do this again soon, right?
Now then for the shaping. Pat your dough piece down into and oval shape…
…then gently roll it with both hands into a small football. Let sit for ten minutes.
When the relaxing is finished, and using the edge of your hand, gently make a trench down the middle of the dough.
Fold the bottom half up…
…and the top half down. This creates surface tension on the outside of the dough, and yields a prettier and more even baguette.
Then using your thumb, pinch the seam closed. Let the dough sit for ten minutes more.
After the relaxing is done, roll the dough out with both hands to a length of about 8 inches. Again, let it sit for ten minutes.
Finish rolling the dough out to a length of 12-14 inches, depending on how skinny you like your “sticks”.
I like mine a bit on the skinnier side. Put the baguettes in a baguette pan — yes I use them, there’s no shame in it, though if you aren’t retarding the baguettes in the fridge, you won’t necessarily need to. Spritz with water and either let proof another 30-45 minutes and bake, or refrigerate overnight, then proof about 1 1/2 hours (and bake).
When ready to bake, slash the loaves and give them a final spritz with water. Bake according to directions posted under How to Make Your Home Oven More Brick Oven-Like. Remember to slash down the loaf and not across.
Bake for about 20 minutes, then open the oven to inspect the progress. Rotate the pan and bake another 5-10 until the baguettes are well browned. Makes three 7-ounce baguettes.