simple crusty bread: in search of a good loaf

I’m going to say it now, but, first, let me kiss my husband and kids goodbye, sprinkle a dash of anemic fish food on my beloved pets, Goldie #1 and Goldie #2, and take one last longing look at my comfortable and safe life before I am shackled up and taken away to a dark, and secret place… I love bread.Yep. Sometimes I go to the market and buy a fresh baguette. Nothing else. I bounce towards the cash register with the (hopefully still toasty) crusty delight tucked under my arm, a warm smile spreading across my face as its delicious aroma completes me, and people instantly open a path for me, their eyes bulging, their mouths wide open but speechless, completely aghast at my impertinence with the evils of carbohydrates. They anxiously await for the Carb Patrol to arrive and take me away.No one has dragged me away in shackles, as of yet. Although I do get riddled with angry looks, this does nothing but increase the sultry pleasure I get from ingesting slices of crusty loaves slathered in, what else, butter. It seems bread has become a favorite villain for many Americans. Armed with the latest shields of trend diets, Americans have denounced all things carb including, first and foremost, the quintessentially primal loaf. We all like to dream we can change the world, albeit one small step at a time. Some of us with more budget head off to remote parts of the worlds to help nourish lives in much need, others turn to the problems in our own backyards. Culinary wimps like myself dare to attack suburbia head on with the excessive purchasing of breads in the hopes that, after the shock wears off, people will start to notice the importance and deliciousness of this primal sustenance. It’s a hard, thankless job, but someone has got to do it.

Simple Crusty Bread

(Adapted by Nick Fox, New York Times Dining Section 11/27/07 from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois)
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough

In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal, let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam.Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Makes 4 loaves

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

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