I would love to fire up the woodfired oven every day. But somehow – whether it’s a house project that requires my attention, Dad doing taxi duty, or a sudden downpour that puts me off – the rest of life has an uncanny habit of getting in the way. So more often than I care to admit, here at Chez Bullhog we turn to the indoor oven to produce our daily bread.
With a modicum of planning, this bread does an excellent job of meeting our (somewhat discerning) needs. It has a well- developed crust, a crumb that’s stretchy and nicely hydrated and a flavor that is at once bright and mildly yeasty. The only complaint I ever get from my kids is that sometimes the holes under the crust get too big. I can live with that.
Besides the fact that every loaf turns out big and puffy and perfect, the coolest thing from a baker’s perspective is that it’s a great proving ground for the variety of flours available on your grocer’s shelf. I’ve done this recipe with all kinds of white flours, from our local Shepherd’s Grain augmented with Hi Gluten flour to a mix of Gold Medal and Italian Caputo. Last night’s loaves, made with Bob’s Red Mill Organic White Flour, had my family swooning!
Makes 2 loaves, 25 ounces each
For the sponge:
1 cup (5 ounces) of all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of dry yeast
¼ teaspoon of salt
¾ cups of cold water
For the dough:
4¼ cups (20 ounces) of all-purpose or bread flour
½ teaspoon of dry yeast
1½ teaspoons of salt
2 cups (17 ounces by weight) of water at 100°
All of the mature sponge mixture
You will also need:
¾ cup of flour for bench work
2 – 9” round baskets fitted with flour-coated cloth napkins
¼ teaspoon of Kosher salt or similar
A pizza stone or 6 quarry tiles
2 Tablespoons of cornmeal
Make the sponge: A day before you will be baking the loaves whisk together 1 cup (5 ounces) of all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon of dry yeast and ¼ teaspoon of salt in a quart-sized bowl. With the handle of a wooden spoon, stir in ¾ cups of cold water until smooth (about 100 strokes). Cover lightly with plastic and let stand in a cool place for 16 to 24 hours.
Make the dough: Next morning, in a large bread bowl combine 4¼ cups (20 ounces) of all-purpose or bread flour, ½ teaspoon of dry yeast, 1½ teaspoons of salt, and 2 cups (17 ounces by weight) of water at 100°. Add all of the mature sponge mixture. Mix well with the handle of a wooden spoon, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Sprinkle a work surface liberally with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Invert the bowl on top of the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, knead vigorously for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
First rise: Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic or a damp cloth and let rise at room temperature for 3 hours, until doubled in size.
Second rise: Punch down the dough; knead lightly on a floured surface and tuck to reform the ball. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover and let rise a further 2½ hours at room temperature.
Shape the loves: Rub some flour into the center of 2 cloth napkins and line 9-inch round baskets with them. Sprinkle a teaspoon of fine cornmeal onto each floured cloth.
Turn the dough out onto your floured counter and divide into two equal pieces. Push most of the air out of each piece of dough; fold edges into the center to create a ball. Put the balls fold-side down into the floured baskets.
Let rise 1 hour at room temperature.
Bake the loaves: Place a pizza stone or 6 quarry tiles onto an oven rack and set the rack 1 notch below the halfway point in your oven. Preheat the oven to 450° for a minimum of 25 minutes.
Sprinkle more flour and cornmeal onto a wooden peel or the back of a cookie sheet. Turn each risen loaf of dough onto your hand and then plop it fold-side down onto the cornmeal. Tuck the sides under to elongate the loaves, but don’t push out any air. Pat or brush loaves 3 times with a small amount of water and sprinkle them with salt. Slip the loaves into the oven directly onto the preheated quarry tiles.
Bake for 15 minutes at 450°. Lower the temperature to 350° and bake for a further 45 minutes until loaves are puffy and brown.
Let cool for 30 minutes before digging in!