Makes: 4 Preparation time: 45 minutes plus rising time Cooking time: 15 minutes
1. Make a pre-dough on the first day. In a bowl, mix 200g of the flour, 200g of the water and half a teaspoon of the instant yeast (or ¾ teaspoon of the dry yeast or ¼ cake of the fresh yeast). Cover with a clingfilm and allow to rest for 12 to 24 hours.
2. If you are using instant or fresh yeast, put the remaining 400g flour, the remaining 200g water, the remaining 1 teaspoon instant or ½ teaspoon cake fresh yeast and all the salt in a big bowl. Add the pre-dough. Mix the ingredients together, then scrape them onto the counter.
3. If you are using dry yeast, put the remaining 400g flour in a big bowl and make a well. Sprinkle the remaining one and a quarter teaspoons dry yeast in the well and add 100g of the water. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. You may or may not get a beige sludge on the top of the water, but don’t worry – what is important is to dissolve the yeast. Add the remaining water, all the salt, and the pre-dough. Mix the ingredients together, then scrape them onto the counter.
4. Knead well for 10-15 minutes adding water by hand to keep the dough soft and pillowy. Pop the kneaded dough back into the bowl and cover with a dry tea towel. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
5. With the dough still in the bowl, pretend the blob of dough is a clock. Starting at noon, gently pinch about one centimetre of the edge of the dough and pull it up and out, stretching it as far as you can without breaking it. Don’t worry if you do, just try not to. Fold that pinched bit over the blob of dough and gently lay it down. Repeat this action all round the blob of dough.
6. Cover again and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough this way once more in the bowl. Cover again and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Pull the dough out onto an unfloured surface. Stretch and fold it once as you did in the bowl. Roll it into a loose sausage. Cover with a dry tea towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
7. Divide the dough into four equal portions. Stretch and fold each portion and shape them all into loose balls. Cover with a dry tea towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
8. Stretch and fold each portion again and roll up into tight sausages. Cover and allow to rest for five minutes. Meanwhile, either grease baguette proofing pans, or heavily flour a tea towel and place it in a roasting pan with deep sides. Please make sure the tea towel comes well up the sides of the pan.
9. Pick up one sausage and move it away from you. Roll it toward you as follows: start with your hands together in the middle of each sausage, thumbs completely touching; roll toward you as you move your wrists – not your hands – apart – so that the fingertips of the index finger of each hand meet and then the fingertips of the middle finger of each hand meet. As you do that, the palms of your hands travel effortlessly over the surface of the dough, stretching it out without applying any downward pressure. Once that has happened, you can move your hands apart as you roll; pick up the dough, move it away from you and roll again as above. Do this as many times as you need to get the length you would like.
10. Be aware that long baguettes are harder to handle than short ones, so if you are a novice, you may want to opt for shorter ones at first. Don’t use any downward pressure, just gentle outward pressure. A true baguette is the same diameter from end to end and is not pointy. Repeat with the rest of the sausages of dough.
11. Lay the baguettes one by one in the prepared proofing pan(s) or on the towel in the roasting pan, making sure there is a deep fold in the towel between each baguette so that they do not stick together as they rise. Remember, they will double in size. You may need to use a second towel as you go and that is fine. If you do not have enough baguettes to fill the roasting pan, wedge them together with something like an upturned loaf pan or a book so they rise up and not out.
12. Flour the tops of the baguettes, cover with a dry tea towel and allow to rest for 30–45 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 230˚C/gas mark 8.
13. If you are using proofing pan(s), make slashes in the tops of the baguettes with a sharp knife or scissors and spray with fresh water from a plant sprayer to help achieve a crispy crust. Transfer the pan(s) to the oven. If you proofed the dough on tea towels, gently pick up each baguette and lay it down on the prepared baking sheet. Make slashes in the tops of the baguettes with a sharp knife or scissors and spray with fresh water from a plant sprayer to help achieve a crispy crust. Transfer the sheet to the oven.