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Rustic Bread

Rustic Bread

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Makes 1 large loaf.
By Dennis W. Viau; modified from a recipe on the King Arthur Flour web site.

Rustic bread, as the name implies, is not fancy bread like a braided loaf. Other names are farm bread, country bread, peasant bread, and possibly many others. The goal is a simple loaf to fill people up. The simple ingredients are flour, yeast, salt, and water. Although the following uses two procedures, you can do it all in one day. It should be simple.

Ingredients:

The Sponge (begin the night before)
1 cup (237ml) water (room temperature)
¼ teaspoon yeast (from a ¼ ounce / 7g packet), instant or active dry
1¼ cups (~6 oz./170g) bread flour (unbleached, if available)

The Dough
1 cup (237ml) water (room temperature)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons yeast (remainder of the packet)
3 cups (15 oz. / 425g) bread flour, plus more as needed
Corn meal as needed

Directions:

Prepare the sponge by placing all the sponge ingredients in a bowl (or stand mixer bowl) and combine thoroughly. Cover and let rest at room temperature (or refrigerated) overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours.

The following day, add all of the dough ingredients to the sponge. Combine until dry enough to knead. Transfer to a clean surface and knead until smooth. If using a stand mixer, attach the bowl to the mixer and use the dough hook to knead the dough 6 to 8 minutes. The dough should be moist and slightly sticky — pulling away from the sides of the bowl but sticking in the bottom. The texture can be modified by adding more water or flour, a little at a time, to achieve the desired consistency.

Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Cover it and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 30 minutes to one hour. For a more developed flavor, the dough can be left to rise in the refrigerator overnight.

Punch the dough down gently (deflate it) and shape it into a rounded ball. Place the dough, seam side-down, on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (or baking sheet).

Cover the dough lightly and let it rise a second time until it appears to be about doubled, about 1 hour (or longer, if the dough has been refrigerated). Don’t let it rise too much; it will collapse as it bakes.

Toward the end of the second rise, adjust a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 475°F (246°C) (optional: with a pizza stone on the rack).

Make several ¼-inch (6mm) deep slashes in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife or baker’s lame. Using a clean spray bottle, spritz the loaf with water. Place the bread on the lowest rack (or on the pizza stone) and spritz the walls of the oven with water, avoiding the stone (it might crack) and the bulb (it might shatter).

Spritz the oven walls every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking. Lower the heat to 425°F (218°C) and continue to bake until well-browned, about 35 minutes. The interior temperature of the bread should register at least 190°F (88°C) on a digital thermometer.

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool uncovered on a rack before slicing. Store, cut side down, on a counter (do not cover). Refrigerating bread will make it stale more quickly.