Introduction: Delicious Homemade Baguette

Bread is rather easy to make. When I have made bread, I have used both my hands and I have also used a Kitchen Aide stand mixer. From my experience, the stand mixer delivers a more uniform result and an all in all better final product. However, you could still make excellent bread with your hands, a few simple ingredients, a pan and an oven!

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Step 1: Ingredients

There are very few ingredients required here...
- a total of 3.5 cups of all purpose flour (you use 2 for the sponge, and the other 1.5 to make the dough itself)
- .5 ounces of active dry yeast (2 standard packets here in the good ol'e US of A)
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1.5 cups of warm water
- corn meal (if you don't have a fancy baguette pan)  
- additional flour for needing

Step 2: Hardware

I use the following:
- fancy baguette pan
- kitchen aide stand mixer (with flat beater and dough hook)

Now, if you don't have one or either the following would work
- flat cookie sheet for baking (this is where the corn meal is quite helpful)
- mixing bowl and metal spoon (this takes a lot more effort than using the kitchen aide, but it is an option) 

Step 3: Making the Sponge

The sponge method is advantageous in several ways. The yeast gets started easily in the absence of salt, which inhibits its functioning, and in the presence of abundant oxygen. Gluten is formed when the sponge stretches in rising, which otherwise would be the product of your labor in kneading. This added elasticity makes it easier to incorporate the remaining ingredients and to knead the dough.

Kitchen Aide (or comparable stand mixer) instructions:
- add 1.5 cups of warm water to the bowl
- add the 2 packages of dry yeast
- add 2 tablespoons of sugar
- mix with flat beater
- add 2 cups of flour, slowly
- mix with flat beater

Bowl and Spoon instructions:
- add 1.5 cups of warm water to the bowl
- add the 2 packages of dry yeast
- add 2 tablespoons of sugar
- mix with spoon
- add 2 cups of flour, slowly
- mix with spoon, about 100 times until the consistency is smooth

When you are done, I highly recommend rinsing off either your spoon or flat beater with hot water to remove all the sponge. When it expands on the utensil, it makes it very challenging to clean. Also, keep the sponge/dough off clothing and fabrics, as that is a nightmare to get out. 

After the sponge is made, you want to let it sit and rest for 30 - 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. When you let it rise, you should cover the bowl with paper towel. The warmer your room is, the faster the sponge and dough will rise.

Step 4: Making the Dough

I find this the perfect time to add the salt to the sponge (soon to be dough)

Mix in the 2 teaspoons of salt.

Then, if using a kitchen aide, use the dough hook to mix in the remaining 1.5 cups of flour.
If you are using a spoon, you can use the spoon or your hands to mix in the remaining 1.5 cups of flour.

KNEAD!!! (really only necessary if you are using the spoon method)
If you are using the stand mixer, you can just keep the dough hook running through the dough a bit longer.

Add extra flour when kneading or using the dough hook. I added probably somewhere around 2/5 of a cup. 

When it is first rising, the dough will seem very unwilling to stick together... DON'T worry, after the first rise this won't be an issue.

Step 5: Rest and Bake

If your room is around 70 degrees, you should be fine. If not, turn your oven onto its lowest setting to raise the temperature and speed up rising times.

Shape it into a ball.

Cover the bowl of dough with paper towel, and let rise for half an hour, or until it doubles in size.

Punch down the dough.

Shape it into a ball again, and cover with paper towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Now is as good of a time as any to turn your oven onto 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 

I make 2 smaller baguettes. Cut the dough into 2 pieces. Then stretch and shape the dough into a log. If you have the fancy bread pan, place it in there, if not, place them on a cookie sheet with corn meal on the bottom. When the dough is ready for baking, take a knife and slice the top of the dough. I find that a single cut that runs from end to end works best.

Once your bread is ready to go in the oven, or so you think, let the bread rise another 10 minutes or so. Then you will be ready to bake!!!

Then place the bread in the oven for 10 minutes.

When it comes out, brush the bread with cold water.

Lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake until golden brown. Typically around 15-20 minutes.

When you are done, eat and enjoy!!! 

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