French Style Country Bread
Sponge Starter (Begin 2 to 16 hours ahead)
1 cup cool-lukewarm water preferably spring
water (90 to 100F)
1/2 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast
1/4 cup King Arthur 100%% White Whole Wheat or
Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour
All of the sponge starter (above)
1 cup lukewarm water preferably spring
water (l00 to 115F)
3/4 teaspoon tsp active dry or ½ instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
To Make The Sponge: Stir all of the sponge ingredients together to make a thick, pudding-like mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on a counter overnight or for at least 2 to 4 hours. If you're making this in a bread machine, place the sponge ingredients inside, and turn the machine on for just a few seconds to mix the ingredients together. Turn the machine off and close the cover. Let the sponge rest for 4 hours or overnight (anywhere between 2 and 16 hours is fine, the longer the better).
Big Tip: Mix ingredients together using up to 80%% of the flour called for. Mix into a loose, messy mass. Let the dough rest for 12 minutes. Then continue, kneading and adding additional flour as required. Overall, the dough handles better, having had a chance to absorb the flour while resting and relaxing, and you'll tend to add less flour.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or plastic container, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and a damp towel, and let it rise until almost doubled (depending on the weather, this could be l to 2 hours). If you're going out, or if you prefer, let the dough rise slowly in the fridge. If your dough has been refrigerated, allow it to come to room temperature; it'll warm up and rise at the same time.
After its first rise, deflate the dough gently, but don't knock out all the air; this will create those "holes" so important to French bread. Form the dough into a round ball. Place two cookie sheets atop one another, and place a semolina- or cornmeal-dusted piece of parchment paper on top. Gently place the ball of dough on the cookie sheets, seam-side down. Cover it lightly with a tea towel, and let it rise the second time until it's puffy and about 40%% to 50%% larger, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes (depending on the weather, luck, and magic). Slash or cross-hatch the bread with a sharp knife or lame. Dust it with a little flour.
Preheat your grill to High. Place the bread (on the doubled-up cookie sheets) on the grill, and close the cover. Immediately reduce the heat to Medium (400F), and allow the bread to bake for 25 minutes, or until it's well-browned. Reduce the heat to Low, and carefully place the bread directly on the grill. Continue to bake until completely done, about 5 minutes.
For Regular (Oven) Baking: Preheat the oven to 475F. Slash the bread, spritz water into the oven with a clean plant mister, and place the bread in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425F and spritz with water every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking. Bake the bread for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until it tests done.
NOTES : You could make this bread, and no other, for the rest of your baking career, and never feel cheated. It uses the sponge, or poolish, method: sort of a poor man's or woman's sourdough starter - no feedings, little pre-planning, lots of flexibility and superb bread. I usually make this dough, sponge starter and all, in the bread machine, but you can do it by hand, processor, or stand mixer. After barbecue season, bake this bread in the conventional ove