- Course: Main Course
- Skill Level: Challenging
- Cost: Inexpensive
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Can be made ahead of time.
This basic Crusty White Loaf yields the closest-tasting bread to a homemade or storebought sourdough loaf possible without the project of a sourdough starter. The dough is very wet and sticky and needs to be baked in a loaf pan, which unfortunately won’t yield a slice of bread the same size as from a larger, 2-pound oval loaf. Since these slices will be a little smaller, adapt them to the recipes in the book by using six slices for open-faced sandwiches or twelve slices for the closed-faced ones. For the open-faced sandwiches, cut the bread in half on the diagonal after grilling, and serve each person three slices with the appropriate amounts of toppings or fillings.
This recipe will make either two small crusty loaves, twelve pan-bagna rolls, eighteen odds & ends rolls, or about forty-five snackbreads.
TO MAKE THE SPONGE: You must start the sponge 8 to 12 hours ahead.
Stir the dissolved yeast mixture well, measure out 2 tablespoons, and pour it into a large mixing bowl. Discard the remaining yeast mixture.
Add the 1½ cups of water to the bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the flour, and stir to incorporate it. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the mixture to sit for 8 to 12 hours at room temperature, until the surface has domed slightly and is bubbly, lumpy, and shiny.
TO MAKE THE DOUGH: Place the sponge mixture, 2¼ cups of water, yeast, and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, and mix on low for 2 minutes, until the ingredients are partially combined. Add the salt, turn the mixer up to medium, and mix for 2 minutes. Turn the mixer to medium high, and mix for another 4 minutes. (The dough will be very wet and seem more like a batter, but it will get easier to work with by the end of its 4 rises.)
Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Clean the mixing bowl, and coat it lightly with vegetable oil. Holding the bowl just below the edge of the floured surface, use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough back into the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set it aside in a warm place, and allow the dough to rise for 30–45 minutes, until it’s slightly domed and bubbly.
Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Roughly square off the edges, and fold each of the 4 sides of the dough in on itself, toward the center, being careful not to deflate it. Scrape the dough back into the bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set it aside in a warm place, and allow the dough to rise for another 30–45 minutes, until it’s slightly domed. Repeat the process 2 more times, for a total of 4 rises and 3 folds.
For the Crusty Loaves
TO SHAPE THE LOAVES: Brush 2 6-cup-capacity (8½-by-4½-by-2½-inch) glass Pyrex loaf pans with melted butter.
Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured work surface, and cut it in half. Fold each of the 4 sides of one of the halves in on itself, toward the center, being careful not to deflate it. Continue folding in this manner until the dough is the size of the loaf pans.
Place the dough, seam side down, in the prepared pan.
Repeat with the other half of the dough. Place the loaf pans on a baking sheet and place inside of a large plastic garbage bag, and blow air into the bag to create a dome of air that will allow room for the dough to rise. Set aside in a warm place, and allow the dough to rise for 30–40 minutes, until it’s domed.
About ½ hour before the loaves have finished rising, adjust the oven rack to the middle position, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Just before baking, toss a few cups of ice into the oven and close the door to create steam. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Place the loaf pans in the oven, a few inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes, and remove them from the oven.
Turn the loaves out of the pan by turning them upside down onto the work surface. Return the loaves (right side up, without pans) to the oven, spaced a few inches apart on the oven rack, to finish baking another 30 minutes. To make sure the bread is done, tap your finger against the bottom of the loaves. If the bread is done, you will hear a hollow sound. Remove them from the oven, and cool completely.
For the Pan Bagna or Odds & Ends Focaccete Rolls
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Pour the dough onto a well-floured surface and divide the dough into 12 4-inch-diameter pieces. Or, if you’re making the focaccete, divide into 18 2-inch diameter pieces. Transfer them carefully by scooping them up with floured fingertips onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Gently shape each piece into a rounded shape, by cupping your floured hands around them. Set the baking sheets aside in a warm place, and allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes.
Flatten each roll by dimpling it firmly with your fingers. Keep in mind these are rustic, free-form shapes.
Just before baking, toss a few cups of ice into the oven and close the door to create steam. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees, and bake the buns until they’re a light golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Nutritional information is based on 18 servings.