So I've been trying to make a proper baguette since we went to France, and made some rather-nice-bread-that-wasn't-a-baguette for awhile before I worked out that the recipe needs tweaking for the altitude and the dry air here in Flag, and the salt isn't optional. Its still not _quite_ right, but its getting close, and the bit of paper with my scribbled notes is getting nigh-unreadable, so its time to put this down somewhere that I can find it again...
Baguettes at 7,000 feet.
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast. (Yes the amount seems to matter; don't just dump a whole packet in.)
1/4 cup very warm water.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
4 cups unbleached high-gluten bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons salt. (Don't skimp, especially at altitude, no matter how little you usually cook with salt. The salt retards the yeast growth so it doesn't go too nuts too fast in the low pressure at altitude.)
1 1/2 cups cool water. (1 1/4 cups in the original recipe - the extra helps adjust for the altitude.)
White of one egg, mixed with ~1 tbsp water.
1) Combine yeast and warm water and mix well to dissolve the yeast.
NOTE: steps 2-7 are taken care of nicely by my bread machine on the large, white, dough setting, which takes an hour fifty and ends with a quick knead cycle.
2) Mix everything except the eggwhite in a large bowl, adding the liquids last. Mix to form a shaggy mass.
3) Knead for 4 minutes on a floured surface.
4) Rest, covered with plastic wrap or a towel for 20 minutes.
5) Knead for 6-8 minutes.
6) Place in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in volume.
7) Gently deflate the dough and fold it over itself in the bowl. Re-shape into a ball and re-cover.
8) Let rise for 1 1/4 hours, or until nearly doubled in volume.
(Original recipe calls for another punch-down and rise here; I've been skipping it.)
9) Deflate and re-form, then break the dough into 3 equal-sized pieces. Gently stretch and/or flatten one into a rough rectangle without tearing it - it will try to shrink back, but you can let it stick to the surface a bit to hold the shape. Then roll the rectangle up from one edge. Pinch sealed the seam and the ends. Set aside and repeat with the other two thirds.
10) Going back to your first "loaf", elongate it by gently stretching and/or rolling the loaf, until its about the length you want your final loaf to be (length of my baking tray, in my case...) Place it on a baking tray scattered with a bit of corn meal. Repeat with the other 2.
11) Cover the tray, and let rise for 30-40 minutes, until not quite doubled in volume.
12) While waiting for the last rise, pre-heat your oven to 500 F (260 C). Put a large metal baking dish (really; don't use glass!) empty in the bottom of the oven while it heats. I use our paella pan for this and its perfect. Get a plant mister and load it with tap water. Boil the kettle, and turn it back off.
13) Un-cover the bread tray and paint the loaves with a mixture of the white of one egg and about a tablespoon of water. Using a very sharp knife held at about 45 degrees to horizontal, cut a long shallow cut from one end of each loaf to the other.
14) Put the tray in the oven. Take a cup of the hot water from the kettle and dump it in the metal tray in the bottom of the oven. Shut the door quick!
15) Wait a minute, open the door, use the plant mister to spray the loaves and each side of the oven 6-8 times (and shut it again quick!)
16) Wait two minutes, open the door, use the plant mister to spray the loaves and each side of the oven 6-8 times (and shut it again quick!)
17) Wait 12 minutes, turn the oven down to 400 F (205 C), then open it for half a minute to drop the temperature, and spray the loaves and sides once more.
18) Bake for 20 minutes (original recipe called for 25-30, but 20 seems pretty consistently right for me.)
That makes it sound all very complicated, but for me it amounts to: dump ingredients in bread machine; come back in 3 hours. Fold over once; come back in an hour. Form loaves, wait a bit, and cook.