This baguette recipe uses a poolish which means that you have to start preparing it the night before. It's worth the work as a first foray into using ferments, although I will keep the ferment going for a day or so longer next time to get a more intense flavour.
There is no need to use special equipment for this bread. A couche would be great for letting the bread rise, but until I have a bigger kitchen, a well-floured tea-towel does the job.
This recipe will make 4 good sized baguettes.
300g strong white bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast (4g fresh yeast)
605g strong white bread flour
300g water (slightly warm to the touch)
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast (8g fresh yeast)
All the prepared poolish
Prepare the poolish at least 12 hours in advance. Mix together the flour, yeast and water until the mixture has the consistency of a smooth batter. Cover with cling film and a tea-towel and let ferment in a warm place overnight.
The next day, the poolish will have risen and look bubbly and smell faintly alcoholic.
Mix the dough by combining the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add all the poolish and the water and mix together until it starts to form a dough.
Turn the dough out onto the work surface (not floured! If you haven't already, get Richard Bertinet's book, Dough. It's an amazing resource on how to knead dough)
Knead the dough for around 8-10 minutes, until it comes away cleanly from the work-top and is smooth, supple and pliant. Coat the dough lightly in flour and shape into a ball.
Place the dough in a mixing bowl and cover with a tea-towel. Let the dough rest until it is nearly doubled in size, around 1hr to 1hr and a half.
Pre-heat your oven at this point to 200C.
Once the dough has doubled, gently remove it from the bowl and knock it back on the work suface.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (I weigh each one to be sure, as it helps with the second rising if they are all exactly equal) Shape the four pieces into rounds and let rest for a further 15 minutes.
Shape each piece of dough into a baguette shape by rolling the round into a sausage shape and folding each length onto the other, creating a seam at the bottom of the baguette that will give it strength.
Place each baguette into a fold of well-floured tea-towel on a baking tray. Ensure that there is a fold of towel between each baguette, so they don't stick to each other, and that there is room for the baguettes to rise.
Cover the shaped baguettes with another tea-towel and let rise again for an hour in a warm place (I use the hob-top, away from the oven door so they get the general warmth with none of the direct heat).
Once the baguettes are risen, score the tops with a razor blade and transfer carefully to a baking sheet for putting in the oven.
Baguettes get their crisp, chewy crust from being baked in a moist, steamy oven so I place a roasting tin with 200ml of water in the bottom of the oven about 10 mins before I am going to bake the baguettes. This gives the oven plenty of continuous steam.
Bake the baguettes on the middle shelf for 20 minutes until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the base.
Cool on a wire rack and then eat with cheese and wine!