This is a www.BetterBaking.com blue ribbon bread recipe. I make a version of it in all my cookbooks because it is that good, and that easy. This particular recipe? Over 10,000 people have downloaded the recipe since it debuted online in 1998. Despite the use of a sponge starter - this bread is not complicated nor does it take days ahead preparation. A 'sponge' starter is a terrific in-between approach to bread that is more interesting than straight dough bread and less long (and therefore also good for novice bread bakers) than a true sourdough. However, this recipe still delivers a crackly crust, hole-laden interior, slightly sour, wonderful tasting French country bread that is so easy - it will quickly become the core of your repetoire. It also makes superb pizza dough. It's good to use organic flour as the sponge starter and then unbleached, white bread flour for the rest of the dough/recipe. This method gives you a mixer with dough hook or bread machine approaches (or hands of course)
4 Hour to Overnight Sponge Starter
1 cup water - preferably spring water
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 cups organic bread flour
2 tablespoons whole wheat or spelt or kamut flour
2 tablespoons rye flour (OR 4 tablespoons more bread flour)
Dough All of the sponge starter (above)
1 cup water - preferably spring water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon malt powder or syrup (optional - see home brewing supply or health food stores)
1/2 teaspoon instant or bread machine yeast
3 3/4 to 4 cups bread flour
For the sponge starter, in a small bowl, stir together the water and yeast and let yeast dissolve. Stir in bread flour, whole wheat, kamut or spelt and rye flour to make a thick mixture. Cover bowl lightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 4 hours or (preferably) overnight. (Bread machine: place ingredients in pan. Put machine on dough mode to mix ingredients. Turn off machine. Put cover down and let stand).
Stir down starter so it is no longer puffy or foamy. Add remaining ingredients for the Dough, while holding back about 1/2 cup of the bread flour. Knead until dough is smooth and resilient. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Insert bowl in a large plastic bag and let rise about 45 minutes. You can also spray the bread with nonstick cooking spray like Pam.
If using a bread machine: For the bread machine, start "dough" cycle. As dough begins to mix, it should form a soft mass, then a soft ball that is not too stiff or sticky. Add additional flour as required to achieve this. If dough is not coming together, stop machine and stir with a rubber spatula to help sponge and other ingredients combine. Once "dough" cycle is complete, remove dough from machine.
After the rise, gently deflate dough (whether it is in the machine or in a bowl) and form into a ball. Gently place it, seam side down, on doubled up baking sheets. Line the top sheet with parchment.
Spray dough lightly with a non-stick vegetable spray. Insert entire baking sheet inside a large plastic garbage bag (this is your "proofing tent"). Let dough rise until ball is puffy (40% to 55% larger).
Preheat oven to 475 F.
Slash loaf with a sharp knife before baking. Spray with water (plant atomizer) and dust with flour. If dough deflates when you slash it, it rose too much. The heat of the oven should help it spring back. Atomize oven with a few squirts of water and place baking sheets on lowest rack of oven. Spray oven interior every five minutes for the first 15 minutes. When 20 minutes remain, reduce heat to 425 F. to finish baking. Loaf should be well browned after 25-35 minutes. Cool well on rack before slicing.
This recipe is for sole, personal use of visitors of BetterBaking.Com Online Magazine. Marcy Goldman/
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