Forget all the hoo-ha about the need for special equipment, using a pre-ferment, special shaping, ice cubes in the oven, complicated instructions and so forth on making a decent loaf at home. Yesterday I made the best baguette-style loaf ever in my home oven and it required almost no effort on my part. I used a bowl, a cheap steel, parchment, and a 2-ounce fingertip sprayer.
It started with a small piece of leftover pizza dough. We make pizza once a week using Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Dough, which is a 70% hydration dough. It truly is no-knead, foolproof, and while it yields fantastic pizza it also turns out to be a great dough for a baguette.
One recipe of Lahey's no-knead pizza dough yields about 30 ounces of dough, enough for three pizzas and one smaller extra ball of dough - we use about 8 ounces of dough for one pizza. I have read that the dough doesn't freeze well, but I always freeze the three extra portions with no problem. This week I mixed the dough on Sunday, made dough palls and one pizza on Monday, and used the "extra" 5- to 6-ounce ball to make a baguette on Tuesday.
About 2 hours before I wanted to bake the loaf I proofed it by removing it from the fridge, folding it into thirds then shaped it into a tight roll. Place on parchment, cover with a damp towel and let it rise.
I have a thin (but heavy) baking "steel" I picked up at the WS outlet for about $20 - it's round, flat, and about 1/8" thick - which I put on the center rack of the oven and preheated at 400 degrees for 30 minutes before I wanted to bake.
Dusted the loaf heavily with flour, slashed it with a serrated knife, then sprayed with water from my mister. Rushed into the oven on parchment right on top of the steel. After 5 minutes, quickly sprayed the loaf again, and again 10 minutes later. Removed from oven to cool on a rack after 35 minutes total baking.
What a surprise and revelation! The crust was shatteringly crisp and layered, golden brown and not too thick or chewy, and the interior was open and rough, even slightly ropy. Perfection for almost no work. I think the combination of very slow rise/ferment over 3 day and spray misting three times was the ticket, and it was so gratifying to be able to produce such a fine loaf at home without having to follow a complicated instruction set like you'll find in books like the The Bread Bible or the Bread Baker's Apprentice.
I know pictures are worth a thousand words, but I don't photograph my food ever. Hopefully you'll try my discovery and like it too.