To bake the perfect baguette you first need to know what you expect: The flyaway crust that scatters crumbs everywhere? The deep golden colour with perfectly exploding slash marks? Nice open crumb? Slightly chewy texture? Strong flavour with a hint of acidity? And then, there is its purpose: Slicing thinly to make tapas (better use a Spanish bread recipe), sliced thinly to serve along side dinner (go for maximum flavour and whatever crumb makes you happy), slicing long-wise to make sandwiches (better go easy on that chewy texture or you will never get through your sandwich), eaten in torn off hunks with cheese (go for maximum acidity to enable the bread to stand up to the cheese), or dipped in your morning cafe au lait (better go easy on the acidity as it does not pair particularly well with butter and jam).
Baking the perfect baguette is a function of what you are looking for from a baguette.
Contrary to popular belief, most baguettes in France are pitiful. They are sliced white bread dough dressed up in a sexy baguette shape. The crumb is closed (like sliced white bread) the flavour is bland. the texture is spongey rather than chewy and – the key feature of the modern baguette – there are little circular indentations on the bottom of the loaf – the clear sign that the dough fermented in a metal tray, rather than in a couche (a thick cloth that is used to support baguettes when they are fermented the traditional way). Every year there is a competition for the best baguette in France and truly, the short listed bakers are the people from whom you should be buying your baguette so you can see what some experts at least believe is the best in France.
As with all things in life, there is the tradeoff between effort and result. If you want a stronger taste and chewier texture you need a poolish and that requires you to start the day before you want the bread. If you want a super open crumb you will need to be prepared to stretch and fold the dough a few times while it ferments, and be able to roll our the dough with minimum interference to increase the chances of keeping the air bubbles in the dough. If you want a super thin and crispy crust you may need a higher hydration than you are used to and if you want the perfect crust of your dreams you really will need a deck oven as the close all around heat, coupled with steam (from the steaming function) coupled with the fact that you bake the bread on the floor of the oven are things you just cannot replicate in a home oven – even with a baking stone.
With a view to finding the perfect baguette I sleuthed out four recipes from the USA to France to Sweden with a little detour through the Netherlands but the recipe there is an American one (none of them mine as that would be cheating, and if you are interested you can find it in my first book All You Knead Is Bread). I know you are riveted! But you will just have to wait for the results. And meanwhile why not book yourself on to a bread course so you can learn to bake like a master!