The Master Recipe: Boule
*makes four 1 lb loaves.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour (measure by scooping flour with a measuring cup and then sweeping across the top with the back of a knife or wooden spoon handle; don't press down)
Mixing and Storing Dough
1. Warm the water slightly (about 100* F).
2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl (or preferably a 5-quart plastic food container that closes but not airtight). Don't try to get all the yeast and salt to dissolve.
3. Mix in the flour. Add all of it at once. Mix with a wooden spoon. Can also use a food processor that is 14 cups or larger using the dough attachment or a heavy-duty stand mixer with the dough hook. Don't knead, just mix. Use your hands if need be. Stop as soon as all the flour is incorporated and uniformly moist. Leave dough in container.
4. Cover with a lid that fits the container well (but isn't airtight). Allow to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse. About 2 hours, but could take up to 5. Even if it risen after 2 hours, it will still be safe to let it sit for 5 hours.
5. You can use the dough at this point, but I really recommend putting it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. It's easier to work with. Dough is good for 14 days in the fridge. Dough can also be frozen in 1 pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the fridge prior to baking day.
How to Bake
Variation 1: Free Form Artisan Bread
Prepared a pizza peel by sprinkling it with cornmeal. Pull up and cut off a 1-lb (grapefruit-size) piece of dough using a serrated knife. Add flour to your dough outside and your hands to keep it from sticking to you.
Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides. Don't try to incorporate more four into the dough. Should take a minute or less to do this. A correctly shaped final product will be smooth along the top and sides, but may look bumpy on the bottom. Rest the loaf on the pizza peel for about 40 minutes. Does not need to be covered.
20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450* with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler pan on any other shelf in the oven.
Dust the loaf with flour. With a serrated bread knife slash a 1/4 inch deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.
After the preheat is done, slide the load off the peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly (but be careful) pour 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the boiler tray. Quickly shut the oven door. Bake for 30 minutes.
Variation 2: Baguette
Preheat oven to 450* with baking stone on the middle rack. Place empty boiler tray on any other shelf that won't interfere with baking.
Cut off a 1 lb (grapefruit size) piece of bread of the master recipe. Dust with flour and shape into a ball quickly. For a cylinder approximately 2 inches in diameter. Roll back and forth or stretch it carefully to do this. Place on a pizza peel covered with whole wheat flour and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Depending on size of your baking stone you may have to cut bread in half and make two smaller baguettes.
After dough as rested, paint water over the surface using a pastry brush. Slash the loaf with longitudinal cuts that move diagonally across the loaf using a serrated bread knife.
Slide the loaf directly onto the hot baking stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly shut the oven door. Bake for 25 minutes or until deeply browned and firm to the touch.
Variation 3: Pizza Crust
Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven with baking stone to 550* or 500*. You do not need the boiler tray for this. Sprinkle cornmeal on pizza peel.
Cut off a 1 lb (grapefruit size) piece of the master dough recipe. Dust with flour and quickly shape into a ball. Flatten dough with hands and a rolling pin to produce a 1/8" thick round. You may need to let the dough sit for a couple of minutes half way through to make it easier to continue rolling.
Top with your favorite toppings.
Slide pizza directly onto the hot stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
High oven temps may cause cornmeal from pizza peel to smoke. You can also bake at 450*, but it will take longer to cook.
Variation 4: Calzones
20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450* with a baking stone and a broiler tray.
Flatten and roll dough (1 lb piece) just as done above with pizza. Use fillings of your choice and place on half of the dough circle, leaving an inch around the edge free of filling.
Wet the inch boarder with water. Fold the bare side of the dough over the filled side. Seal the border by pinching closed with fingers. Cut 3 slits on the top crust, all the way through the dough, using a serrated knife.
Slide calzone directly onto hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the boiler tray quickly and shut the door. Bake for 25 minutes.
Notes: Baking these breads is actually quite quick and easy. Allow yourself extra time the first attempt though.
If you don't have a pizza peel: Use a cutting board or a cookie sheet without raised sides.
If you don't have a baking stone: Just use a regular round pizza pan or cookie sheet. Don't preheat the pan though. Bake as normal, but it may need a couple of extra minutes. Doesn't turn out quite the same as intended, but it's still absolutely wonderful bread.