Crusty Rustic White Bread
My parents bought me The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (the author of The Cake Bible) and ever since I opened it I couldn’t wait to try this bread. This was the first bread I’ve ever made using a starter, and I thought it was so easy to work with I’ll probably never make another bread without using one. It cut my mixing time in half, and you can’t argue with what it does for the flavor either. This bread was full of it! Wheaty, yeasty, crunchy and chewy. It’s amazing, and I can’t wait to eat more of it honestly. And it couldn’t have been simpler to make!
The book offers two different techniques for making the dough, a hand method and a mixer method. I used the hand method so I’ll give the recipe for that one…
It’s got a pretty long prep time, since the sponge has to sit and rise for at least 8 hours, but this is a great bread to make along the weekend for a Sunday dinner.
Ingredients for Dough Starter:
- 1 c. bread flour (I used all purpose)
- 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
- 3/8 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp. honey
- 1 1/3 c. water at room temperature (70-90 F degrees)
Ingredients for Flour Mixture:
- 1 3/4 c. bread flour (again, I used all purpose)
- 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt (If making a sponge, don’t put this into the flour mixture, add it when called for later in the recipe)
Make the sponge. In a mixer bowl or other large bowl, place the bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, honey, and water. Whisk until very smooth, about 2 minutes. It should be the consistency of a thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and set aside while you make the flour mixture.
Make the flour mixture. In another bowl whisk together the bread flour and instant yeast. Gently scoop it onto the sponge to cover it completely (like in the first photo up top), and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow it to ferment at room temperature for 1-4 hours. If letting it sit longer, move to refrigerator to rest for up to 24 hours. During this time the sponge will rise up and bubble through flour mixture, this is fine.)
Take the sponge out of the fridge one hour before you plan to mix it.
Mix the dough. Add the salt and, with a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it out onto a lightly floured counter. (I spray mine down with a little veggie spray as well.) Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little flour as possible to keep it from sticking. At this point, the dough will be relatively sticky. Cover it with an inverted bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.
After the dough as rested, knead again for another 5-10 minutes, until it is very smooth and elastic. It should be barely tacky to the touch. If it is still sticky, add as little flour as possible to develop the dough. (Over all, I probably added an extra 1/3 c. flour to the original flour volume.)
Let the dough rise. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl. Push down on it gently, and roll it in oil to coat. Cover the container with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, roughly an hour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press down on it gently to form a rectangle. Fold this rectangle in thirds like a business letter, turn the folded dough so the crease is facing away from you, and fold into thirds again. (This is called a business letter fold.) Round the edges and return the dough back to the bowl. Slightly oil the surface again, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise once more for another 45 minutes to an hour.
Shape the dough and let it rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and press it down to flatten it slightly. The dough will be slightly tacky, but only use as much flour as needed for shaping. (I simply dusted my hands with flour and it didn’t stick to me at all.) To make a free-form round loaf, round the dough into a ball about 6 1/2 inches by 2 1/2 inches high and set it on a greased and floured baking sheet or stone.
Cover the dough with a large bowl or oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled. Roughly an hour. When the dough is risen it will spring back slowly when pressed lightly with your fingertips.
Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 475 (F) degrees 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf on the lowest rack and place a sheet pan on the floor of the oven before preheating.
Slash and bake the bread. With a sharp knife make several 1/2 in. deep slashes across the top of the dough. Mist the dough with water and place in the oven. Toss 1/2 c. of ice cubes into the sheet pan placed on the floor of the oven and close oven door quickly but gently to allow the bread to steam. Bake for 10 minutes.
Lower the temperature to 425 (F) degrees and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. To give the free-form loaf an extra crisp crust, leave it in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes with the door propped ajar.
Cool the bread. Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.