posted by Emma 07-15-100 10:14 PM
1 1/2 cups very warm water (105 - 115 F)
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Crusty Italian Loaf
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water (105 - 115 F)
1 cup plus 9 ounces cool water (75 F)
1 1/2 cups sponge starter
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
How To Prepare the Sponge Starter:
Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes, until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. The batter will be stiff; it gets softer and more elastic after it has proofed. You may find it easier to mix the sponge using an electric mixer, with a paddle or a dough hook, on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the sponge into a 2-quart clear plastic container and cover with plastic wrap.
How To Prepare the Crusty Italian Loaf: Combine the warm water and yeast in a large bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Let stand for 3 minutes.
Add the cool water and sponge to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for about 2 minutes, breaking up the sponge. The mixture should look milky and slightly foamy.
Add the flour and salt and mix with your fingers to incorporate the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl and folding the ingredients together until the dough gathers into a mass. It should be wet and sticky, with long strands of dough hanging from your fingers. If necessary, add 1 tablespoon of water.
Move the dough into a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until it becomes supple and fairly smooth. This is a sticky, wet dough; don't be tempted to add a lot of flour to the work surface. Just dust lightly and use a dough scraper as necessary to loosen the dough from the table during kneading. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes, covered with oiled plastic wrap. (This rest period is the autolyse.)
Knead for dough for 3 - 5 minutes, until it is stretchy and smooth yet still slightly sticky. Shape the dough into a loose ball, place it in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn the dough in the bowl to coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (75 - 77 F) for about 1 hour, or until the dough looks slightly puffy but has not doubled.
Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or preferably, overnight to let it relax, develop flavor, and become more manageable.
Take the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, until it warms up and starts to rise. Flour a work surface well and gently dump the dough onto it. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces (about 13 ounces each). Gently flatten one piece, pressing out some of the air bubbles, and stretch it into a rectangle. Form into a log and then into a short banquette about 12 inches long. The loaf will be loose and slightly irregular in shape. Cover an area at one side of the work surface with a thick layer of flour and place the loaf seam side down on the flour. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough, leaving plenty of space between the loaves - they will spread as they rise. Cover the loaves with well - oiled plastic wrap and let them rise for about one hour.
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475 F. Place a baking stone in the oven to preheat and position an oven rack just below the stone. Sprinkle a peel very generously with cornmeal. Line an upside down baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle very generously with cornmeal. Lift one loaf and flip it over onto the peel so the floured side is on top. Gently tug on the ends to stretch the loaf to the full length of the peel (about 14 inches). Repeat with the remaining loaves, placing another one on the peel and the last one on the pan. Dimple each loaf with your fingers in abut 6 places, but don't deflate them too much. Be sure the loaves are loosened from the peel, then carefully slide them onto the baking stone. Place the pan of bread on the rack below the stone. Using a plant sprayer, quickly mist the loaves 8 - 10 times, then quickly shut the oven door. Mist the loaves again after one minute. Then mist again 1 minute later.
Bake for about 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 450 F and bake for 15 minutes longer, or until the loaves sound slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom and the crust is a medium to dark brown. (If the crust is not brown enough, the loaves will soften as they cool.) Transfer the bread to a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.
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