I’ve been asked for my bread recipe, so I’m sharing.  There is nothing quick or particularly easy about this recipe.  It takes forethought.  It takes planning.  It takes 3 days.

This is bastardized from Bread Alone, which is a great book to understand how bread works.

First, the poolish, or starter:

1/2 cup of water

1/2 teaspoon dry yeast

3/4 cup of flour, preferably bread flour.

Combine the yeast and water.  Stir until the yeast is completely dissolved.  Mix in the flour and stir roughly 100 times to get a good start on the gluten formation.   Cover in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 12-24 hours.  The time can be cut in half by leaving it out on the counter, but it tastes better with the slower fermentation.

Stage 2, the dough:

2 1/2 cups of water

1/2 teaspoon dry yeast

7-8 cups of flour, preferably bread flour.

1 tablespoon salt

Combine the yeast, salt and water.  Stir until everything is dissolved.  Mix in the poolish and break it up. Stir in flour until the mix gets thick enough that you are worried about breaking your wooden spoon.  Flour the counter and dump out the dough.  Knead the heck out of the dough, adding more flour as you go.  Knead hard for at least 20 minutes, or you won’t be happy with the final result.  You should have have about a cup of flour left.  Form the dough into a ball, then put it in a bowl large enough to hold the dough after it doubles in size.  Spread some oil over the dough, cover in plastic wrap and let it sit until it doubles in size.  I usually let it sit overnight.

Punch the dough down, pull it back into a ball and let it sit in the bowl for another 3o minutes.

Punch it down again and knead it for 5 minutes.  Divide in half.  You’re making two loaves of bread.

Shape the loaves* and cover with a damp towel(dish towel or paper towel, not a bath towel) until the loaves increase in volume 1 1/2 times–about 2 hours.

Put one oven rack on the bottom level and one in the middle.  Place a shallow pan on the bottom rack.  Heat your oven to 450 degrees.  While it’s heating, slash the top of the loaves with a sharp knife.  This will control the expansion, without allowing the bread to crack wherever it wants.   Sprinkle some corn meal on a pan, then transfer a loaf onto that pan.  Put it in the oven and pour a small amount of water in the shallow pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 and bake for another 15 minutes.  When you lower the heat, the dough should have a beautiful golden color.

When it comes out, brush butter over the entire loaf and place on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes.   At this point, the inside of the bread is not cooked, so don’t cut it, yet.  The exterior temperature will transfer to the interior and finish cooking it.  The butter will soften the crust, which is a major selling point with my kids.

Eat it.

*Shaping the loaves.

I use three shapes.  Round, “Italian”, and “French”.

To shape a round loaf, form it into a ball.   Tuck the sides underneath as much as possible.  The taller the ball, the better it will shape in the oven.

Italian:  Form a ball, then flatten it.  Pull the top edge to the middle and pinch it in place.  Do the same with the bottom.   Fold the entire loaf in half along the seam in the middle.  Pinch the seam shut and flip the loaf over.  As it rises, the seam will disappear.

French:  The same as the Italian-style loaf.   When you have that shape, roll it from the middle to the ends, until it gets long and skinny.  Exactly how long and skinny is up to you.  Remember that the loaf will puff up about 50% in the oven.

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