Makes 4 standard-sized baguettes
450g Strong white flour
10g Dried yeast
large pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
2 tbsp Olive oil
Semolina for dusting
I usually make a starter of the water, yeast and a pinch of sugar whisked together with 100g of the flour in a large bowl, cover with clingfilm, a damp tea towel or your plastic bag of choice and leave for about an hour. Then I whisk the mixture for a few seconds before adding the rest of the flour, salt and a splash of olive oil, mixing by hand to bring the dough together. Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes, after which the mixture should be kneaded using the remainder of the olive oil for about 10 minutes until a smooth, silky dough is formed. Oil your large bowl and return the dough to it. Cover and leave to rise until the dough has at least doubled in size.
To achieve the very light baguette texture it is important not to knock too much air out of the dough, so turn it very carefully on to a floured surface. I use shaped baguette baking trays, so oil them at this stage. Then carefully divide the dough with a sharp cutter. For standard size baguettes divide into 4. Stretch each piece lengthwise and fold the ends into the middle to achive the desired length, roll lightly in a sprinkling of semolina (for added crunch) and place your loaf on the baking tray. If you don't use a pre-formed tray, maintain the baguette shape with rolled tea towels. Loosely cover and leave to prove for at least 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile heat your oven to its highest temperature. When your loaves have proved, slash them diagonally (3 times for a standard sized baguette) with a very sharp blade, before placing them in the oven. Cook at the highest temperature for 7 minutes, then turn the oven down to 220c for 8 minutes and then finally to 180c for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a wire tray to cool.
There is a school of thought that a dish of water should be placed in the oven, but a French friend swears by dipping his hands in hot (never, ever cold!) water and running them lightly over the loaves to dampen them immediately before they go in the oven.
For rolls, I divide each "baguette-length" piece of dough by 3 and follow the same method, including cooking times. It is just as simple to make half baguettes to suit your taste.