Artisan Bread Master Recipe
  1. To make the preferment: Combine the yeast and sugar in the water and stir. Add flour and mix until the flour is hydrated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the preferment at room temperature for 8-10 hours or overnight.
  2. To make the final dough: Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart heavy-duty stand mixer bowl. Don’t worry about trying to dissolve the yeast. Add all of the flour at once along with the entire preferment and begin mixing using a the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Kneading the dough is not necessary. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
  3. Transfer dough to a resealable, lidded plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature. Refrigerate the dough, at this point, at least overnight before using. Refrigerating the dough overnight makes it much easier to handle.
  4. When ready to bake your first loaf, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal or semolina to prevent your loaf 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 19 ounce (grapefruit-size) 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 top surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. 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 correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.
  5. Place the shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 90 minutes (it doesn’t need to be covered during the rest period). Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking (“oven spring”).
  6. After 90 minutes, preheat the oven to 500 °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 bread. Unless otherwise indicated in a specific recipe, dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a ¼-inch-deep cross,
  7. After 30 minute preheat, you’re ready to bake. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel 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 5 minutes; then lower temp to 450 F and bake for 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. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room-temperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.
  8. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 10 days: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the 14-day storage period. Refrigerate unused dough in a lidded storage container (again, not airtight). Cut off and shape more loaves as you need. The dough can also be frozen in 19 ounce portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.