Traditional baguette.


Well, who doesn't like a challenge sometimes, huh?
I saw this recipe from Annie and got excited.
It takes three days for the bread to get done, but - oh boy! - it's so worth it.

We start out by making a sponge, which is a fermented base for the dough:
1/8 teaspoon dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water (that nice temperature that seems to be a bit on the cold side, when it touches your hands)
180g/ 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
(Cup measure: 240ml)

I stirred all of the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until smooth, covered loosely in plastic and let it stand in the bowl for 8 hours at room temperature (a couple hours less or more won't do any harm).
After that, the sponge should have doubled in volume, have tiny bubbles, and supposedly have a depression on it's center.

For the dough:
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1/2 cup water at room temperature 
600g/ 2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

To prepare the dough, I started by adding 6 tablespoons water to the sponge.
Slowly, I added the flour and stirred with a spoon, until it could be shaped as a ball.
I transferred the dough to the counter and started kneading, adding a few drops of water to incorporate the remaining dry bits. When it got smooth, I opened up a 20x15cm rectangle, pressed the dough with my fingertips to make indentations, sprinkled 1 tablespoon water, folded the dough over itself and pinched the edges to seal. 
I kneaded quickly, about one minutes, until the water was incorporated.
After that comes the fun part, which is a different way of kneading. You have to shape the dough as a rectangle, grab one of the ends, and crash the other one against the counter.
As the dough stretches out, you fold it in half and continue the process.
You alternate this kneading method with the regular one until the dough feels soft and supple, with a smooth surface. About 10 minutes.

Again, I opened up a 20x15cm rectangle, sprinkled 1 tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon salt.
I folded the dough, pinched the edges, kneaded like before, for the same time.
If you think the dough is too stiff, repeat the process sprinkling two more tablespoons water.
If not, you can already do the windowpane test.
The idea is to take a small portion of dough and stretch it out with both hands, until it's super thin. If it becomes so thin that you can see light through it without the dough tearing, means the kneading was done right and the gluten has developed.
Susan posted photos of this test in here.
If it tears, don't worry. Knead a bit more and test again.
When my dough passed the test, I shaped it as a ball, wrapped in a little bit of oil, and put it to rest for 30 minutes (or until it reaches twice it's original volume) in a clean bowl covered in plastic and tea towel.
I folded the dough, only to remove air bubbles, and let it rest for one hour and a half.
I folded it again, cut in two equal parts, and shaped one part at a time, leaving the other part covered meanwhile.
I shaped each one roughly as a torpedo, about 15cm long. On the counter itself, I covered
them loosely with plastic and a tea towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.
While waiting, I lined a baking tray with parchment paper.

Working one bread at a time and keeping the other one covered, I finished shaping them.
With the bread resting on the counter, I cut a "slash" on it's side using my thumb, while the rest of the hand pressed the dough down to close this slash. I pinched the dough to close it right.
Seam side down, I rolled the dough until it formed a 30cm cylinder, with an approximately 7cm diameter.
I did the same to the other half of dough, then transferred them both to the lined tray.
I covered tightly with plastic and a tea towel and left it to rise in the fridge for 12 hours (it should be no less than 12, no longer than 16h).

After that time, I took the tray out of the fridge and let it stand covered at room temperature for 45 minutes. Then 15 minutes more, uncovered.
I preheated the oven to 250oC (medium/ high temperature) and prepared an egg white wash to make the bread's crust glossier and crunchier: 1 egg white + 1 tablespoon water.
With a sharp knife I made four slashes along each bread's surface, then generously brushed the wash and sprinkled a bit of water - the best way to do that is with a spray bottle.
I placed the tray in the oven along with a small baking pan containing hot water.
The steam helps the bread to become soft.

I let it bake for 10 minutes, turned the tray around in the oven, and baked for 5 minutes more.
If the crust already is tanned, you can take it out and devour :)

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