About six years ago I discovered what I believe is the most extraordinary bread recipe in existence. It comes from Peter Reinhart's cookbook called "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". I don't make the recipe exactly the way he says anymore; after 6 years I have made various modifications to suit my taste preferences and have altered certain procedures of technique, so the following recipe is sort of "my own", but the underlying principle, the one that makes the end result so amazingly great, is 100% creditable to Peter Reinhart. The idea is that the slow action of yeast on the dough as it rests in a cold environment allows more sugars to develop in the fermenting dough. Then, as the dough is baked at a very high temperature, these sugars caramelize to produce a gorgeously colored and complexly flavored loaf of bread.
To make this bread, first assemble your ingredients:
27 oz. of bread flour
5 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
20 oz. very cold water
Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer to mix with the bread hook.
You may also use a hand mixer with bread hooks if you do not have a stand mixer.
Mix for 8-10 minutes.
The dough should be just wet enough that it cleans the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom of the bowl as you are mixing. If it does not stick to the bottom, add more water a tiny bit at a time until it does stick.
Turn the dough out into a bowl greased with a little oil - I use olive oil but vegetable oil is probably fine as well. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator over 2 nights. Through trial and error I have noticed that with just 1 night refrigeration, the flavor is not as developed, but with 3 nights the dough begins to turn sour.
After 2 nights, remove the dough from the refrigerator 3 hours before you wish to bake it, and let it sit at room temperature for those 3 hours.
Look at the wonderful changes that have occurred in your dough!
Once the dough has fully risen, preheat the oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit.
Gently cover the surface of the dough with a light dusting of flour. Then allow the dough to rest for just a moment while you line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using a long, very sharp knife, gently cut along the dough to separate the first of 4/5 baguettes that you will make from this batch of dough. Gently stretch the portion of dough holding it by the ends to form a baguette shape and place it on your parchment-lined baking sheet.
Use a lame (shown below - essentially a razor blade on a stick), or a very sharp knife, or even kitchen shears to create shallow slits on an angle down the length of the bread. These will allow steam to escape during baking, preventing large bubbles from forming on the bread.
Here is the cut bread, ready to bake.
Now slide the parchment off of the baking sheet and onto a baking stone. If you don't have a baking stone, and are serious about baking this bread, get one. You can custom size it to exactly fit your oven, and you can leave it in all the time.
After 20-25 minutes, or when your baguettes look like this, remove them from the oven and cool them on a cooling rack.