Updated: Apr 5, 2022
The Master Recipe: Artisan Free-Form Loaf
(This recipe is directly taken from the book/website ‘Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day’ by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois artisanbreadinfive.com)
Make the dough, let it rise, pop it in the fridge and make today or another day!
Makes four, 1 pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
3 – 3 1/4 cups lukewarm water adjusted for bread flour (high protein means high absorption) You can use cold water, but it will take the dough longer to rise.
Just don’t use hot water or you may kill the yeast
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher Salt or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups Stone Bridge Flour Bread Flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel
Mixing the dough:
In a 5 or 6 quart bowl or lidded dough bucket, dump in the water, and add the yeast and salt.
Because we are mixing in the flour so quickly it doesn’t matter that the salt and yeast are thrown in together.
Dump in the flour all at once and stir with a long handled wooden spoon or a Danish Dough Whisk which is one of the tools that makes the job so much easier!
Stir it until all the flour is incorporated into the dough, as you can see it will be a wet rough dough.
Put the lid on the container, but do not snap it shut. You want the gases from the yeast to escape. (You can put a little hole in the top of the lid so that
you can close the lid and still allow the gases to get out.)
Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 2 hours to rise. When you first mix the dough, it will not occupy much of the container.
But, after the initial 2 hour rise it will pretty much fill it. (If you have decreased the yeast you will have to let it go longer than 2 hours.)
DO NOT PUNCH DOWN THE DOUGH! Just let it settle by itself.
The dough will be flat on the top and some of the bubbles may even appear to be popping. (If you intend to refrigerate the dough after this stage it can be placed in the refrigerator even if the dough is not perfectly flat. The yeast will continue to work even in the refrigerator.)
The dough can be used right after the initial 2 hour rise, but it is much easier to handle when it is chilled. It is intended for refrigeration and use over the next two weeks, ready for you anytime. The flavour will deepen over that time, developing sourdough characteristics.
The next day when you pull the dough out of the refrigerator you will notice that it has collapsed, and this is totally normal for our dough. It will never rise again in the container.
Dust the surface of the dough with a little flour, just enough to prevent it from sticking to your hands when you reach in to pull a piece out.
You should notice that the dough has a lot of stretch once it has rested. (If your dough breaks off instead of stretching like this your dough is probably too dry and you can just add a few tablespoons of water and let it sit again until the dough absorbs the additional water.)
Cut off a 1-pound piece of dough using kitchen shears* and form it into a ball. 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 correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive.
The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.
Place the ball on a sheet of parchment paper… (or rest it on a generous layer of corn meal on top of a pizza peel.)
Let the dough rest for at least 40 minutes, (although letting it go 60 or even 90 minutes will give you a more open hole structure in the interior of the loaf. This may also improve the look of your loaf and prevent it from splitting on the bottom.) You will notice that the loaf does not rise much during this rest, in fact it may just spread sideways, this is normal for our dough.
You can also try our “refrigerator rise trick,” shaping the loaves and then immediately refrigerating them overnight. By morning, they’ll have risen and are ready for the oven after a brief room-temp rest while the oven preheats.
Preheat the oven to 450°F with a Baking Stone* on the center rack, with a metal broiler tray on the bottom (never use a glass vessel for this or it will shatter), which will be used to produce steam. (The tray needs to be at least 4 or 5 inches away from your stone to prevent it from cracking.)
*(or Cast Iron Pizza Pan– which will never crack and conducts heat really well. Be careful to dry it after rinsing with water or it will rust)
Cut the loaf with 1/4-inch slashes using a very sharp serrated knife. (If your slashes are too shallow you will end up with an oddly shaped loaf and also prevent it from splitting on the bottom.) If your dough is collapsing when you make the slashes, it may be that the dough has over proofed or your knife it dull and dragging the dough too much.
Slide the loaf into the oven onto a preheated stone and add a cup of hot water to the broiler tray. Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes or until a deep brown color. As the bread bakes you should notice a nice oven spring in the dough. This is where the dough rises. To insure that you get the best results it is crucial to have an Oven Thermometer to make sure your oven is accurate.
If you used parchment paper, you will want to remove it after about 20-25 minutes to crisp up the bottom crust. Continue baking the loaf directly on the stone for the last 5-10 minutes.
Allow the loaf to cool on a rack until it is room temperature. If you cut into a loaf before it is cooled, you will have a tough crust and a gummy interior. It is hard to wait, but you will be happy you did! Make sure you have a nice sharp Bread Knife that will not crush the bread as you cut. Or you can tear it apart as they do in most of Europe.
If you have any leftover bread just let it sit, uncovered on the cutting board or counter with the cut side down. If you cover a bread that has a crust it will get soggy.