The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)
Source: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F.
2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.
3. Mix in the flour- kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. If you’re hand mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing bowl with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead- it isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step should only take a matter of minutes, and should yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight). Don’t use any screw-top jars, which could explode from trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times (up to 5 hours) will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. The authors recommend that the first time you try this recipe, you refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.
On Baking Day
5. The gluten cloak: don’t knead, just “cloak” and shape a loaf in 30 to 60 seconds. First prepare a pizza peel (or a cookie sheet or cutting board) by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece of dough, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The final product with be smooth and cohesive. The entire process in this step should take no longer than 30 to 60 seconds.
6. Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel: Place shaped ball on cornmeal-covered pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn’t need to be covered). You may not see much rise during this period; more rise will occur during baking.
7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F., with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising of the bread.
8. Dust and slash: Dust the top of the loaf liberally with the flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.
9. Baking with steam: After a 20 minute preheat, you’re ready to bake. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off of your cornmeal covered surface and onto the preheated baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Because you’ve used wet dough, there is little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. Allow the loaf to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.
10. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. The dough “matures” over the 14 day period, improving flavor and texture of your bread. Cut off, shape and bake more loaves as you need them.