This rustic white bread recipe spreads out as it bakes, which forms natural breaks in its surface crust, creating a dramatic presentation. This bread is made with fairly wet dough, which is a requirement if you want big holes in the crumb, and it’s leavened with a small amount of yeast, which provides the opportunity for a long, cool rise — overnight and most of the next day at a cool room temperature. The long, slow rise lets the yeast and various enzymes develop maximum flavor in the dough, and also makes for a chewy texture. You can put a crisp crust on any non-enriched dough (flour, water, leaven and salt; no eggs) by baking it on a baking stone and setting your home oven to its highest temperature.
Ingredients and supplies:
1 pound unbleached white flour
1 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 1⁄3 cups water
Baking stone or cookie sheet
Pizza peel or heavy piece of cardboard
Note: If rehydrating yeast with water, subtract the amount of water you added to the yeast from the 1 1⁄3 cups in the recipe.
Starting the night before baking day, in a large mixing bowl use your hands to mix the flour, yeast, salt, and enough water to a form a soft and sticky dough, though the exact consistency may vary with the flour used. Cover, and let the dough rise at room temperature. When you get up in the morning, wet your hands, lift dough onto a flat, wet surface, then gently stretch it and fold it in half 2 to 4 times. Return dough to the same bowl, cover, and let it rise until it has doubled in size. If you take the temperature of the dough with an instant-read thermometer and it’s below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you may want to put it in a warm place, otherwise the rise may take until the afternoon.
While the bread is in its second round of rising, line a bowl that will comfortably hold double the amount of dough with a cotton or linen cloth heavily dusted with flour. When the dough has doubled, gently turn out onto a work surface, and with wet hands and a dough scraper (if you have one), stretch and fold, and turn 2 to 4 times until the dough begins to stiffen and assume the shape of a ball.
Place ball into the bowl on the well-floured cloth. Cover, and let rise until the dough has almost doubled again, 1 to 4 hours depending on room temperature.
Turn onto a well-floured pizza peel or a well-floured piece of heavy cardboard. Slide onto a baking stone or cookie sheet in an oven preheated to 500 degrees. Bake until the crust is golden brown on top and the bottom crust is hard and thumps like a drum when you tap it (about 30 to 40 minutes). Set to cool bottom-up for at least 2 hours before slicing.
Note: Adding humidity to the oven always improves bread crusts. To achieve this, try keeping a pan filled with water in the oven while baking. You can also try baking with a stainless steel mixing bowl over the bread.