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Course: Breads
Keyword: Baking, Breakfast, Comfort Food, Very Basic Bread

Very Basic Bread

ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 13 hours 30 minutes
Yield: 1 loaf
Crust on the outside, fragrant, yielding yet chewy on the inside. Tangy. Buttery. Earthy. You know, I don't care what those armies of carbophones chant; bread is the ultimate comfort foot.
If you take a look at the following procedure, you'll see that it starts with a very wet batter made up of yeast, honey, water, and a small amount of flour that is refrigerated overnight. This is called a sponge — or a biga in Italy, or a poolish in France (in honor of Polish bakers...long story) — and it will provide the final loaf with the complex flavors (especially acidity) associated with a full-on sourdough. Yes, this step will take more time and yes, your patience will be rewarded.
Note: As the starch sets and the surface cools, the bread will crack and pop like a bowl of Rice Krispies. The sound used to scare my dog, but don't let it scare you.
This recipe first appeared in Season 8 of Good Eats.
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  • 16 ounces bread flour, plus extra for shaping
  • 1 teaspoon instant rapid-rise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 10 fluid ounces filtered water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 quarts hot water
  • Vegetable oil, for greasing the rising container
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 13 hours 30 minutes
Yield: 1 loaf

Procedure

  • Combine 5 ounces of the flour, 1/4 teaspoon of the yeast, all of the honey, and all of the filtered water in a straight-sided container; cover loosely and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
  • Place the remaining 11 ounces of flour, the remaining 3/4 teaspoon yeast, and all the salt into the bowl of a stand mixer, and add the pre-ferment from the refrigerator. Using the dough hook attachment, knead the mixture on low until it just comes together, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the dough in the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to restThis allows the flour to hydrate and the gluten structures to relax for easier kneading. for 20 minutes.
  • While the dough is resting, pour half of the hot water into a shallow pan and place on the bottom rack of your oven.
  • After 20 minutes, knead the dough on medium speed until you are able to gently pull the dough into a thin sheet that light will pass through, 5 to 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky, but not so sticky that you can't handle it.
  • Grease the inside of a large straight-sided container with the vegetable oil. Place the dough ball into the container and set on the rack above the pan of water. Allow to rise until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it onto a countertop, lightly dust your hands with flour, and press the dough out with your knuckles; then fold 1 side in towards the middle of the mass and then the other, as if you were making a tri-fold wallet. Repeat the folding a second time. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for another 10 minutes.
  • Flatten dough again with your knuckles and then fold the dough in onto itself, like you are shaping something that looks like a jellyfish. Turn the dough over and squeeze the bottom together so that the top surface of the dough is smooth. Place the dough back onto the counter and begin to roll gently between your hands. Do not grab the dough but allow it to move gently back and forth between your hands, moving in a circular motion. Move the dough ball to a pizza peel or the bottom of a sheet pan that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to bench proof until you poke the dough and it quickly fills back in where you poked it, about 1 hour.
  • Place a 10-inch, unglazed terra cotta dish upside down into the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Combine 1/3 cup of water and the cornstarch in a small bowl. Uncover the dough and brush the surface with this mixture. Gently slash the top surface of the dough ball in several places, approximately 1/3 to 1/2-inch deep. Add more of the hot water to the shallow pan if it has evaporated. Slide the bread onto the terra cotta dish in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Once the bread has reached an internal temperature of 205 to 210ºF, remove to a cooling rack and allow to sit for 30 minutes before slicing.
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