Rustic Bread (From The Rustic Loaf, 1-2/01)
|Prep Time:||It's bread. It takes a long time.|
|Number of Servings:||Makes 2 loaves|
|Ingredients:||2-1/3 cups water
4 teaspoons active yeast (not quick acting or quick rising)
6 cups unbleached bread flour, divided
2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt
2 tablespoons cornmeal
|Directions:||In a large bowl combine the water, yeast, and 2 cups of the flour; stir until it forms a thick batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the sponge to ferment at room temperature for 2-8 hours. Add the salt and the remaining 4 cups of flour to the sponge, and using a wooden spoon stir the dough until it is thick enough to handle. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead it for 8-10 minutes by pushing it away from you and folding it back towards you. If the dough is too sticky dust your hands with the smallest amount of flour (too much additional flour kneaded into the dough will yield a heavy and dense loaf). The dough will eventually become smooth and supple; it will be able to stretch easily without tearing.
Place the dough in a clean bowl that is large enough to allow it to rise and set the bowl on the middle rack of your oven (DO NOT TURN ON THE OVEN). Place a small pan of hot water on the oven floor to create steam and warmth (with an electric oven the pan of water may have to be placed on an oven rack). With the oven door closed, allow the dough to ferment for 2 hours. The dough will double in size and become light and airy. For a more fla-vorful bread, and if time allows, deflate the dough and allow it to rise again, for an additional hour. After the dough has risen once or twice, deflate it, and turn it out onto a work surface. Cut the dough into two even pieces and shape them into round smooth balls. Sprinkle the cornmeal across a baking sheet and place the dough balls on the baking sheet, making sure that any seams that occurred during shaping remain on the bottom. For a more rustic-looking loaf dust each loaf of bread with an additional tablespoon or two of flour. Place the baking sheet in the oven (DO NOT TURN ON THE OVEN), and again place a pan of hot water on the oven floor. Allow the dough to rise for approximately 1 hour; it will have doubled in size, feel light for its size, and when two fingers gently press the dough the indentations remain and do not spring back. Gently remove the pan of breads from the oven and set it on the counter; leave the pan of water in the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a sharp knife, quickly but gently slash the tops of the breads. Place the pan with the breads on the middle rack in the preheated oven. Within the first 10 minutes the bread will rise considerably (this is referred to as oven spring). Bake the breads at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes (if the bread is browning unevenly the pan may need to be rotated once or twice), then remove the pan of water from the oven floor and lower the heat in the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the bread at this temperature for an additional 25-30 minutes.
The bread is cooked when the crust is crisp and a deep brown color, and it sounds hollow when tapped; an internal temperature will read approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that all ovens are different and that breads bake at various rates depending on the accuracy of the oven.
Gently remove the loaves from the pan and place them on a wire rack to cool, or lacking a wire rack rest the bread on several layers of kitchen towels. Allow the bread to cool for 20 minutes before slicing. Store the cooled bread at room temperature or in a freezer; refrigerated bread increases the rate at which bread stales.