Oh how I love the crusty crunchy bread. For dipping in soups, pasta sauce or topping with my favorite cheese spreads. I also have bread baked fresh weekly. Its a healthier option and more cost effective too. I've made many attempts over the years and never quite got it right it. Everyone who listed recipes gave tips and tricks and I always seemed to miss the one where the bread got dark and the crust was hard like I love it.
Now I have it down and I want to share with you.
1 3/4 Cup warm water
1 Packet Dry active yeast (not the rapid rise stuff)
1 Tbsp honey
4 Cups Bread Flour
**Mix first 3 ingredients in bowl and set aside 10-15 minutes to active yeast**
When the yeast is active and bubbly add 2 cups of bread flour in a stand mixer and combine. Add a 3rd cup now and 1 Tbsp + 1/2 tsp Kosher salt. Salt is important to flavor, but if you add it too soon it will attack the yeast and you won't get a rise in your bread. Now, depending on your humidity levels this can be tricky. Add flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough absorbs all the flour, but is still slightly sticky to the tough. You do not want dry dough, you want slight sticky dough. So you may use up to 4 cups to get this texture, or you may use less. I'm in a humid part of the country so I have used the 4 full cups on rainy days or high humidity periods. Not always though.
Now you have your dough together, add a little olive oil (1 tsp) to the bowl and place the dough back in the bowl rolling it around in the oil so the dough and the inside of the bowl is coated. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until double in size. About 1-2 hours.
When the first rise is done you want to turn the dough out onto a counter, either extremely lightly floured or not floured at all. Stretch your dough into a square shape. No pounding! Then fold in half one direction and then fold the right side to the middle, then the left side to the middle to create a square shaped ball. Put back into the bowl, cover and allow to rise another hour.
Pour dough onto counter again and cut evenly into 4 pieces. I then take the pieces with my fingers one at a time and tuck under where you see the cut from the knife. After that, I pull and stretch it with my fingers so the dough is as long as I can get it. Do not roll like a rolling pin fashion, this won't work.
Place your long baguette dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet and preheat over to 500 degrees. YES, 500 degrees! Then cover your baguettes with plastic wrap again. This is the last rise, and it will be done when your oven reaches 500.
Now for a trick. Have a handy spray bottle filled with water on hand. This will do wonders for your crust!
Time to put in the oven. You are going to lightly spray your bread with the water, and spray the sides of you oven with it to before you close the oven door. Set timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, spray your oven with the water again. Set timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, reduce oven temp to 425 degrees and spray the bread and the oven for the last time. Set timer for 10 minutes.
Now your baguette will be dark brown and with a hard crust. You can tap on your crust and it should sound hollow so you know its done. Let cool for about 10 minutes or more before cutting. Store unused bread in the freezer and defrost on another day for fresh tasting bread. I like to pop mine back in the oven at 350 for 8 minutes right before serving so it tastes fresh baked and warm.