Crisp and light, with a crackly brown crust, these baguettes are super-easy to make.
|1¼||cups lukewarm water|
|2||cups sourdough starter, about the consistency of thick pancake batter; fed, or unfed*|
|4½ to 5||cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour|
|1||tablespoon instant yeast|
|4||teaspoons vital wheat gluten|
|1||egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for glaze; optional|
|Pizza seasoning, sesame seeds, artisan bread topping, or anything else you think might be good; all optional|
|If you feed your sourdough before using, the loaves will rise better; but if you're in a hurry, unfed sourdough will simply lend its flavor, while the yeast in the recipe takes care of the rise.|
1) In a large bowl, combine the water, starter, and 3 cups of the flour, mixing until smooth. 2) Stir in the salt, sugar, yeast and gluten, then an additional 1 1/2 to 2 cups of flour. Stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, adding only enough additional flour as necessary; a slack (sticky) dough makes a light loaf. 3) Knead the dough for about 7 minutes in a stand mixer; or 8 to 10 minutes by hand, on a lightly greased work surface. You may also knead this dough using the dough cycle on your bread machine; once it's finished kneading, transfer it to a bowl to rise, as directed below. 4) Turn the dough into an oiled bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 90 minutes. 5) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into six pieces (for thin baguettes) or three pieces (for thicker Italian loaves). 6) Shape each piece into a 16" long loaf, and place the loaves, at least 4" apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets, or in lightly greased baguette pans (French loaf pans). If you're using baguette pans, make the loaves 15" long. 7) Cover the loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let them rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until they're nice and puffy. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F. 8) If desired, gently brush the loaves with egg yolk glaze, and sprinkle them generously with Pizza Seasoning, artisan bread topping, or the toppings of your choice. If you're not brushing the loaves with egg yolk, spray them with olive oil spray; this will help them brown. 9) For a classic look, make three diagonal slashes in each loaf, cutting about 1/4" deep. For taller, rounder baguettes, don't slash. 10) Bake the baguettes for about 25 minutes, or until they're a rich golden brown. Remove the loaves from the oven. Turn off the oven, crack it open a few inches, and return the loaves to the cooling oven, without their pans. Letting the loaves cool right in the turned-off oven helps preserve their crunchy crust. Yield: 6 baguettes or 3 Italian-style loaves.