This recipe comes straight out of The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry. I highly recommend picking up a copy. I've had this book for years now and the recipes have never failed to produce fantastic bread. When we were first married, I would come home on Friday around 3pm and spend the afternoon making bread for the next week. Nothing is better for relieving stress than kneading dough and by the time The Spouse got home from work the whole condo smelled of freshly baked bread. It was a great way to start off the weekend.
Serving Suggestion: Toast up slices of this bread and spread with warmed brie for a delicious breakfast.
Traditional French Bread
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Combine the yeast and 1/2 cup of the water in a large mixing bowl, stirring until dissolved. Set aside for 5 minutes.
Add the remaining 3/4 cup of water, salt, and 2 cups of the flour and beat vigorously for 3 minutes. Beat for another 5 minutes, continuing to add the remaining flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary to prevent stickiness.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours or overnight.
Let dough come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Turn out again. Divide into thirds, shape into baguettes, and place in trays.
Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in bulk - about 20 minutes. Spray with vinegar. I sometimes throw poppy seeds on the baguettes at this point.
Make the seven traditional slashes in each baguette. (I don't know why there are seven, but authentic French baguettes all have that many.)
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown, spraying again with vinegar after 10 minutes of baking. Transfer to wire racks to cool for at least an hour.