Put the 4 1/2 cups flour, the yeast, salt, and water in a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until a smooth elastic dough forms. Alternatively, process the ingredients in a large food processor for 45 seconds.
Transfer the dough to a plastic bucket or a large deep ceramic or stainless steel bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 70 degrees) for at least 4 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Break down the dough by bringing the outer edges into the center of the bowl and pressing down to release the air inside. Form the dough into a ball. Sprinkle the work surface with 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour, place the dough on top, and press down to form it into a rough rectangular shape. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 4 equal strips. Roll each strip under your palms into an 18-inch length.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat and sprinkle with the cornmeal. Place the baguettes on the baking sheet. Let the baguettes rise, covered with an upside-down roasting pan, in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Sprinkle the tops of the risen loaves with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour. Cut 4 diagonal slits in the top surface of each loaf with a serrated knife or razor blade, and place in the oven. Using a spray bottle filled with tap water, mist the inside of the oven to create steam, and immediately close the door. Bake the baguettes for 35 minutes, or until brown and crusty.
Cool the baguettes on a rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing.
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Copyright © 2011 by Jacques Pépin. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.