This lovely loaf gets rave reviews every time it appears on our table. It’s an ideal dipper for your favourite olive oil & balsamic combination, as well as being a perfect vehicle for cheese, butter, or any spread you like. I tend to make the dough first thing in the morning, and stick it in the fridge to rise for the day; the dough will then be fully proofed for a final quick rise and baking right before dinner. You can shape it into freeform skinny loaves or use a baguette pan if you have one.
1 ½ cups warm water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
pinch white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 ½ cups unbleached bread flour, plus extra for the counter
Equipment needed: razor blade for slashing dough; spray bottle for misting bread
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water in a large bowl and let sit for several minutes.
- When yeast is foamy, add sea salt and flour, blend with wooden spoon and then hands, or dough hook if using stand mixer, until mixture comes together in a ball.
- Knead 2 minutes by machine or by hand.
- Turn the dough out onto the counter; shape into a ball and transfer to a floured bowl; sprinkle it with a very little bit of flour and turn it to coat with the flour on all sides.
- Cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in bulk.
- Alternatively: let the dough rise, in the bowl covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, remembering to bring it to room temperature for about an hour before shaping it.
- When ready to start the shaping process, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter.
- Cut it into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball, making sure you don’t press out all the air bubbles that have developed (leaving air bubbles intact ensures larger air holes once the bread is baked).
- Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Flatten one of the dough balls with your hands to make it into a long rectangle. Fold the long sides of the rectangle towards the middle and then roll the dough with your hands to form a long cylinder, about 12 – 14 inches long. The ends should be somewhat tapered.
- Repeat with second ball and place both cylinders on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
- Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes; the cylinders should increase by half their size.
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Slash each cylinder diagonally at 3-inch intervals with a razor blade or clean very sharp craft (exacto) knife. These gashes will allow steam to escape during baking.
- Bake the bread for 25 minutes, or until it is golden brown and crisp. Three times during the first ten minutes of baking, very quickly misting the bread and interior of oven with water from a spray bottle. Don’t leave the oven door open too long or the bread might deflate.
- Cool the bread on a rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Makes two loaves.