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I spent last winter teaching myself to bake (good) bread. You know the drill, proofing yeast, raising, kneading, raising — yada yada yada. Then my neighbor stopped by with the PERFECT baguette. . . one that called just four ingredients, could be left to its own devices for 12-18 hours and required no kneading. Game over.
In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast and salt together. Add water and stir till more or less blended. The dough will be thick and shaggy. Think Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at room temperature for at least 12 hours, but to 18 or 20 hours. Seriously.
The dough is ready when it is swollen and bubbly all over the top. Think lunar surface.
Spread 1/4 to 1/3 cup of additional flour on a smooth work surface. Dump the dough onto the floured surface. Have a scraper handy because it’s pretty gooey and will stick to the bowl.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little more flour. Using a bench scraper or spatula, lift up one side of the dough, give it a good stretch skyward and fold it over the rest of dough. Repeat this process 2-3 times trying not to deflate the dough too much.
Flour up you hands and get ready to shape the dough in loaves or rolls on the floury surface. For rolls, divide the dough in half, halve again, and divide each quarter into thirds. For loaves, divide dough in half and create rounded or oblong free-form shapes. Work as gently as possible so as not to deflate dough very much.
Place these little gems on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Dust loaves/rolls with flour and cover with plastic wrap.
Let rise for 30 minutes while you pre-heat your oven to 475 degrees (F). The oven does need to be good and hot.
A few minutes before it’s time to put the bread in the oven, put a pie pan filled with 1/2 – 1 inches of water on the bottom rack. This creates steam — a “turbo boost” for the bread and creates a great crust.
Bake bread on middle rack till it’s a fine, nutty brown — about 15 minutes for rolls and about 20 minutes for loaves. Bottoms of your bread should be browned as well.
Cool on a rack, and as tempting as it may be to tear into your bread while warm, it’s actually way better once it cools. You have been warned.