When my wife and I first started selling at farmers' markets, the one question we got most often was, "do you have bread?" The bread seekers would turn around and walk away when we said, "No, sorry." So...we decided to start making bread.
I had made bread before in my home oven, and subjected the dough to a litany of tricks - spraying the oven walls, pouring hot water into a hot pan, baking in a pre-heated dutch oven - the last trick worked the best, but try finding a baguette shaped dutch oven!
In one of my previous posts (baked in its own bag) I tried yet another - baking bread in a parchment tent. As I mentioned in the post, the crust was crusty and the crumb was moist and vaguely shiny with nice sized holes, but the process was not baker-friendly. It took too long to seal the parchment bag, and the dough kept sticking to the paper despite having sprayed it with non-stick spray.
For my last bake (pictured above) I went back to the method I learned from Peter Reinhart - I heated a sheet pan in the oven with a steam pan on the oven floor (I used the sheet pan like the oven deck). I proofed the baguettes on parchment paper sprayed with non-stick spray, and once the oven was hot, I loaded the deck using a peel wide enough for the bread. Then I poured hot water into the pre-heated steam pan (if you have a restaurant supply store nearby, purchase a shallow hotel pan). I place a quarter sheet pan on the oven floor as well, and occasionally sprayed it with water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Check out Reinhart's books, The Bread Baker's Apprentice and Whole Grain Breads for more on his baking methods.
The bread came out very nice using this technique, and it was a hell of a lot easier than wrapping each baguette in parchment. When you are making 30+ baguettes. the method I used is a real time saver.
As for the recipe, Fine Cooking has a really good one. I used Rheinhart's recipe, which I will post below. The original can be found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. My technique, however, is similar to the technique Rheinhart uses for whole grain breads - a pre-ferment and a pre-dough. You can do this with the Fine Cooking recipe as well.
Flour - 10 oz.
Yeast - 1/2 tsp.
Water - 6 oz. (room temp)
Flour - 10 oz.
Salt - 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 tsp. (play around and salt to taste)
Water - 6 oz. (room temp)
Mix the ingredients for each component separately. Wrap the bowl with the pre-ferment and place in the refrigerator. Wrap the bowl with the pre-dough and leave on the counter for around 12 hours. You can make the pre-ferment 1-2 days in advance - just keep punching it down.
After both components have had some time to hydrate and develop, add another 1/2 tsp. of yeast and the same amount of salt as before to the dough and mix the two together in a mixer with a dough hook. Let this proof for a couple of hours. Divide, shape and let proof for 30 minutes (for baguettes) or 40 minutes for a boule or batard. Pre-heat the oven to 500 with a sheet pan or baking stone as your deck. Don't forget the steam pan, too. You can heat the oven while the bread is proofing.
Before putting the bread in the oven, you are going to slash the baguette. A razon blade, or lame, works well, but a serrated knife works, too. Now - the proof is literally in the proofing time with this one. If you proof too long the blade will not go easily through the dough and will get caught, but if you have proofed the dough for an ideal time, your blade will glide quickly through the dough.
Working quickly, slash the dough and slide it onto the deck with the peel. Pour 1/2 cup of water into the steam pan and close the oven. Turn the heat down to 450. After about 1 minute, spray the dry sheet pan in the bottom of the oven with a spray bottle (spray a stream, don't mist). Repeat every minute or so for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes are up, bake for an additional 10-20 minutes, depending on how dark you like the crust. And remember, practice makes perfect - you will have to play with the salt (and even yeast) and water until you get the recipe just the way you like it. I would suggest leaving the flour constant - no need for 4 variables!