Extra wheaty with stone-ground whole-wheat flour, this sponge-starter-based bread is more dense than a white-flour French bread. But it has a great crust, great flavor and a nice honey-wheat fragrance.
You'll need an extra-large plastic zip-top bag, big enough to hold a baking sheet and bread loaf (alternatively, a large sheet of plastic wrap can be used), and a spray water bottle. We found the flours called for in this recipe at MOM's stores. Spring water is specified because it is not chlorinated (and therefore will not interfere with yeast development). The optional malt powder or syrup, available at health-food stores and via www.KingArthurFlour.com, gives the yeast something to nibble on and helps with flavor and browning.
Store this bread wrapped in a clean dish towel for the first day, which will help keep the crust crisp; after that, in a zip-top bag.
Make Ahead: The sponge starter needs to sit at room temperature for 8 to 16 hours. The dough needs to rise a first time for 45 to 90 minutes and a second time for 1 1/2 to 4 hours. The unsliced loaves can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Yield: Makes 1 large round loaf or two smaller ones
- For the sponge starter and dough
- 1 1/4 cups water preferably spring water, or as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/3 cup white unbleached bread flour, preferably organic
- For the dough
- 1 1/2 cups water, preferably spring water
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon malt powder or syrup (optional)
- 2 tablespoons light olive oil
- 2 cups stone-ground whole-wheat flour (bread or all-purpose)
- 2 to 3 cups unbleached white bread flour, or more as needed
For the sponge starter: Combine the water and yeast in a medium bowl, then add the whole-wheat flour and white unbleached bread flour. Stir to form a thick, puddinglike mixture. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, leaving a little head space. Let it sit for 8 to 16 hours. The starter should become foamy-looking or spongy.
For the dough: Stack two baking sheets; line the top one with parchment paper.
Stir the sponge starter to deflate it, then spoon it into the deep bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Add the water, yeast, salt, honey, malt powder or syrup, if using, the oil, whole-wheat flour and about 1 cup of the white unbleached bread flour. Mix briefly on low speed to form a soft mass. Cover lightly with a clean dish towel and let stand for 15 minutes.
Then continue to knead (using the dough hook attachment) until the dough is smooth and resilient, adding as much of the remaining flour as needed. The dough should be soft after 5 to 8 minutes.
Grease a large bowl with nonstick cooking oil spray. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Insert the bowl in the large zip-top bag (see headnote), which you will use again later as a proofing tent. Seal to close; let the dough rise for 45 to 90 minutes. It should almost double in size.
Remove the bowl from the bag. Gently deflate the dough and shape into a large round or two smaller rounds, and place on the lined baking sheet. Insert the baking sheet stack into the plastic bag. Seal to close; let the dough rise until it has almost doubled in size, which can take from 1 1/2 to 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Have a spray bottle with clean water at hand. Mist the oven with water just before the bread goes in. Remove the baking sheet stack and dough from the bag. Use a sharp knife or blade to slash the top of the dough; dust with flour.
Bake, immediately reducing the temperature to 450 degrees, spraying the oven interior every 2 minutes for the first 10 minutes. After 25 minutes, reduce the heat to 425 degrees and bake until nicely browned; this process should take a total of 25 to 30 minutes.
Let the bread loaves cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.
From Montreal baker and cookbook author Marcy Goldman.
Tested by Jim Webster.
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