Probably the most gorgeous bread I've ever baked is the breakthrough, no-knead recipe invented by Sullivan Street Bakery owner Jim Lahey (you can find it online). It turned me into a bread baker, and I will never go back — but the dough has to rise overnight, and I don't always plan that far ahead. When I need fresh bread today, I turn to this recipe. I like the heartiness of whole grains, so I use a little whole-wheat flour, but you can certainly go with straight-up white flour, if you prefer. Do try to get your hands on bread flour, if at all possible; the high protein content makes for the best chewiness and crust.
Note: Note that you’ll need a food processor, pizza stone, and clean spray bottle filled with fresh water for this recipe.
This bread takes only a few minutes of active work, but needs about 5 hours of rising, plus about 30 minutes to bake. So if dinner's at 7 p.m., get started by 1 p.m.
If you like, add to the dough a tablespoon of fresh herbs, poppy seeds, or chopped almonds. Even subtle additions, such as a few grinds of white pepper, contribute interesting new flavors.
Put the bread flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a food processor, and mix for a few seconds. Then, with the blade running, add the water and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Run the machine for 30 seconds — the dough should form a sticky ball that spins around inside the bowl.
Rub the inside of a large bowl with the remaining olive oil, add the dough, and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours.
Lightly flour your hands and a countertop. Then, scoop the dough — which will be very sticky — onto it. Cut the dough in half and shape each half into a rectangle. Let rest, covered with a damp cloth, for about 30 minutes, to allow the dough to relax and become supple.
Lightly dust a cutting board or pizza peel with cornmeal. On the countertop, arrange the long side of 1 dough rectangle facing you. Fold the dough lengthwise halfway onto itself from the edge closest to you, then fold in the edge farthest from you to completely cover the first fold, forming a thinner rectangle, and pinch the seam.
Roll into a baguette shape about 2 inches thick, place on half of the cornmeal-dusted board, seam side down, and shake the board to make sure you'll be able to slide the dough off and onto the pizza stone later. Repeat with the second piece of dough, placing it on the other half of the board, at least 3 inches apart from the first. Let rise, covered with a damp cloth, for 1-2 hours.
Put a pizza stone in the oven, set the temperature to 450 degrees, and preheat for a solid 30 minutes. This is important to fully heat the stone.
Meanwhile, whip the egg in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon water, and then lightly brush the egg wash onto both loaves. Using a sharp, serrated knife, make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes across the top of each loaf. Slide the dough from the board onto the hot pizza stone, using a swift jerking action and making sure the loaves are perpendicular to the stone.
Quickly spray the loaves and the inside of the oven with water from a spray bottle several times. After 5 minutes, spray inside the oven again. Bake the baguettes until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Eat or freeze the day you bake.