And if want to create a starter from scratch, all you need is some warm water, flour and wild yeast. We get ours off of cabbage leaves. (Thank You, Jim Lahey!)
Take a large leaf and wash it off in 1 cups of warm water (really get in there with clean hands and rub the white film off the leaf) mix in 8 oz (a scant 2 cups) of flour, beat well and let sit covered on your counter, 12 hours.
Feed again equal weights of flour and water and let sit again 12 hours. You should have a bubbly happy little mess on your hands. if not try feeding it and letting it sit one more night. There are a couple of key points to remember: All utensils, anything that touches your starter must be clean! Starter loves routine, so once your used to using it the same way on a regular basis is when it will be happiest. To keep if you use everyday, it can sit on the counter in a container. Feed and use the starter and clean out container when the sides get yucky. To use weekly from the refrigerator, pull from fridge and let come to room temp. Feed and let activate (8-10 hours) and use, keep a little out (about a cup) and give it a small amount of water and flour, return it to the fridge to chill for the week.
Now THAT is a happy starter!
Time to make bread:
To make a flavorful, slightly dense baguette:
Mix equal weights of water and starter and double that for the weight of flour. salt should be used sparingly but is necessary for a fully flavored loaf... try using 1% of the total dough weight. (i.e. 1#water + 1# starter + 2# flour = 4# 4x16= 64 ounces divided by .01= .64 or a little more than a half an ounce...about 2 teaspoons)
In a large mixing bowl, pour water and starter and stir to blend. add flour a little at a time until a ball of dough begins to form. Saving out about a cup of the flour. Cover the bowl and let this dough sit for 20 minutes. This is called an autolyse. The resting of the dough without the salt added to it allows for maximum absorption of the water into the flour and will make the gluten easier to form. When ready, sprinkle on the salt and about 1/2 of the remaining flour. Pull the dough into the center from the edges all the way around to incorporate the salt. Dump out onto a well floured surface and knead together into ball. Set a timer and knead for 10 minutes. I know it can seem like a long time, but it is very meditative. put on some good music or that podcast of 'This American Life ' you've been wanting to listen to, time will be up before you know it AND you will have performed your arm workout for the day...bonus! The dough will become quite silky and smooth, like a baby's bottom. Cover it and let it rest to rise. 1-2 hours, depending on your room temp, starter vigor, etc. If your doing this ahead, this would be the time to put into the fridge, tightly covered. It can sit in there 12 hours or so. When ready to work, just pull it out, ring to room temp. and portion into loaves. knead into a football shape and let sit, covered for 20 minutes. Starting at the center of each loaf, roll with both hands (a little like when you used to make snakes out of clay) outward until your loaf is the length of your pan. Lay on parchment lined sheet pan to rise. Cover with a cloth if it is cool or drafty. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. if you have a baking stone line them up on the middle rack. Place a shallow pan half filled with water on the bottom of the oven (if your oven is electric, put the pan on top.) This is meant to create steam. Once the loaves have doubled in size (a finger poked in the side should leave a mark that does not bounce back) slash the tops with a razor or very sharp serrated knife place in the oven...on the pan if you don't have a stone. If you do have a stone, slide the loaves off the pan, parchment and all and right on to the stone. You may want to cut the paper so that each loaf is on it's own sheet for this to make for easier transport. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until quite golden. Interior temperature should be 200 degrees.