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For the starter:
- A walnut size piece of fully risen dough from pizza dough or any other white-flour bread dough
- ¼ cup of warm water about 105°F to 115°F
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
For the sponge:
- The first-stage starter (from above)
- ¼ cup warm water 105°F-115°F
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
For the final dough:
- 1 ¼ cups cool water about 78°F
- ¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
- The second-stage sponge (from above)
- 3 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Day 1 - Stage One “make the starter” (early morning):
- Cut the risen dough into little pieces and drop them into the warm water in a medium mixing bowl. Allow the dough to soften for about 5 minutes. Gradually add in the flour using a sturdy wooden spoon to mix. If the dough is too difficult to stir with the spoon, mix it with clean hands until all the flour is incorporated. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and put in a warm place (about 80-85 degrees) to rise for about 8 hours. The dough should become soft, sticky, bubbly and springy.
Day 1 - Stage Two - “make the sponge” (afternoon):
- Scrape the fully developed first-stage starter onto a cutting board and cut it into 4 pieces. Add the pieces to the mixing bowl and add the water. Allow the dough to soften for 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon gradually stir in the flour until the dough comes together and the flour is fully incorporated. If it is too stiff to mix, use your hands. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place (80 to 85 degrees) for 4 hours. The dough should double in size during this time. Refrigerate the risen sponge for at least 1 hour but no more than 8 hours.
Day 2 - "the final dough" (morning):
- Pour the water into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast into the water and stir by hand to mix. Deflate the sponge and break it into pieces. Add the pieces to the bowl and allow it to soften for 5 minutes.
- Add the flour to the mixing bowl and turn on low. Once the flour is incorporated turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes to fully absorb the water.
- Turn the mixer on low speed and sprinkle the salt onto the dough. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and knead for 8 minutes. The dough should be very soft and moist. If it begins to rise up the dough hook, scrape down with a rubber spatula.
- Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in a warm place (80°F 85°F) for 1 ½ hours. The dough will double in size and have a network of bubbles visible.
- Fold the dough down onto itself a few times to deflate it and redistribute the yeast. Don't punch the dough down or you may lose the open, bubbly structure. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes.
Forming the Baguettes:
- Cut the dough into 4 pieces each weighing approximately 10 ounces. Working with one piece at a time, carefully pat each piece into a rough rectangle. Fold down about a third of the dough and press it lightly in the middle of the dough with your fingertips. Fold everything down to the bottom and once again, lightly press the dough into place. Roll the dough, seam side up, back and forth under the palms of your hands to form a short sausage shaped dough. Cover the dough with a towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Roll each piece of the rested dough gently under your palms to make a 15-inch long baguette with slightly tapered ends. Place each loaf seam side up on a floured towel, lifting a section of the towel up to form a pleat between each baguette. (See photo above)
- Cover the loaves with a clean kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.
Bake the Baguettes:
- Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a cast-iron skillet on the floor of the oven. Rub a pizza peel with flour and set aside.
- Pour 1 cup of warm water into a bottle or measuring cup with a spout. About 2 minutes before baking the baguettes, open the oven door and carefully pour the water into the hot skillet. Immediately close the oven door to trap the steam.
- Roll the baguettes onto the peel, seam side down. Slash each baguette with a razor or very sharp knife making 3 deep cuts almost parallel to the bread. Quickly slide the loaves onto the hot stone and bake for about 18 minutes. To test the baguettes insert an instant read thermometer into the center of a loaf. It should read 200°F to be completely baked.
- Cool completely before cutting.