Please don't let the title fool you, my friends. I promise you don't have to spend four hours in your kitchen stirring or kneading in order to make these wonderful baguettes! You will need to be around for those four hours, however, or at least be back home in one hour increments during those four hours.
Have cold? Have snow? Are the kids at home because school was cancelled? Then this recipe is for you. Not only is it perfect weather for making bread but delicious, crusty, beautiful bread it is. Just imagine how happy (and less crabby) your family will be when they bite into a crusty, buttery slice of warm bread. It will ALMOST make them forget they can't go outside because they'll get frost bite.
I came across this recipe on Saveur recently and the wonderful thing is that you don't need any special equipment. Yes, a pizza stone, cast iron skillet and a stand mixer with dough hook will come in handy if you have them, but they are not absolutely necessary.
So if you have nothing more to serve with this bread than a can of soup because you can't get to the grocery store, your family will love it. All you need is flour, yeast and salt in your pantry, and this is how it's done...
Adapted from Saveur and Dan Leader
Makes 3 baguettes
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) tap water, heated to 115° F
1 teaspoon (1/8 ounce) active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups (14 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
1/2 cup ice cubes
1/2 cup ice cubes
Special Equipment: 2 baking sheets, parchment paper. Ideal but not necessary: Cast iron skillet, stand mixer with dough hook, large pizza stone
Place warm water and yeast in a large bowl and whisk together. Allow to sit about 10 minutes until yeast is foamy. Add the flour and stir with a fork until dough forms making sure all of the flour is absorbed. Allow the dough sit to for about 20 minutes for the flour to hydrate. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. I used my stand mixer with dough hook to knead the dough. Shape dough into a ball by pulling sides under and transfer dough to a lightly greased bow. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Note: My dough took longer to double so I turned on the oven light to warm the oven just a little.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and pat into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Remove dough from the oven and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack. Position another rack above the skillet, and place a baking stone or pace an upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut the dough into three equal pieces. Shape the pieces into 14-inch ropes. Place a piece of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet and dust lightly with flour. Place the ropes, evenly spaced, on the paper. Lift the paper between the ropes to form pleats to separate the dough and place two tightly rolled kitchen towels on each end of the paper, creating blockades for the loaves. Cover the ropes loosely with plastic wrap and let rest until it doubled in size again, about 50 minutes.
Uncover the dough ropes and remove towels. Flatten the parchment paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots. Each slash should be about 3-4 inches long. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and gently slide the parchment with ropes off the baking sheet onto the baking stone or pan. Quickly add the ice. This produces the steam that lets the loaves rise before a crust forms. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes (mine took 20 minutes). Cool before serving, if you can stand to wait.
Unused baguettes can be frozen and reheated in the oven.