Jane’s Sweets & Baking Journal -- janessweets.blogspot.com -- July 2012

Rustic Country Bread

(This was adapted from a recipe called “Country White Bread,” on The Farm Wife blog, at this url: http://www.thefarmwife.com/page10.php?SessionID=63c1dff5012fde068917)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)

3 and 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (I almost always use instant yeast, which requires no proofing; if you want to use active dry yeast instead you'll need two standard size packets, and you'll want to proof them first in a bit of the warm water before adding that into the bowl.)

6 cups bread flour, and a little more for flouring your work surface and hands

1 and 1/2 tablespoons ground flax meal

1 tablespoon wheat bran

1 and 1/2 teaspoons wheat germ

1 and 1/2 cups warm water (about 120 degrees or so)

1/2 cup milk, room temperature (I used 2 percent.)

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, lightly whisk together the sugar, salt, instant yeast, three cups of the bread flour (only three), the flax meal, wheat bran, and wheat germ. Add the water and milk into this, stirring until very well blended.

Add the softened butter and lightly beaten eggs, stirring until fully combined.

Gradually add in about two and one half cups more flour, stirring until the dough looks like a rough shaggy mass that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the bowl and dump the dough out onto a well floured work surface. (Also flour your hands well, and keep a handful of extra flour nearby for this purpose.) Knead the dough until it feels smooth and elastic, working in the final 1/2 cup of flour as you do so; this may take at least five minutes of steady kneading.

Use oil, vegetable spray, or shortening to completely coat the inside of another large, clean bowl. Put your dough into it, turning the dough so it's coated all over. Grease/spray etc. one side of a sheet of plastic wrap and use it to cover the bowl, greased side down. Place the bowl in a spot that’s free of drafts and let the dough rise until it has doubled; that should happen within an hour (mine took barely 40 minutes on a hot day).

Press your fist down into the risen dough, here and there, a couple of times to deflate it. Turn the deflated dough over in the bowl and cover it again with the greased plastic wrap.

Again, let the dough rise until doubled. When the dough has doubled, dump it out onto your work surface (only very lightly floured this time) and cut it into two equal parts using your bench scraper or a sharp chef's knife.

Shape each of the two halves into a shallow round, making sure to tightly pinch any seams closed on the bottom. Sprinkle a very thin layer of cornmeal (or you can use a little flour) onto a couple of  parchment sheets. Set the dough rounds on the cornmeal. Cover the dough mounds with greased plastic wrap and let them proof (aka have their final rise) until almost doubled. This might take half an hour.

If you're going to bake the bread on metal baking sheets, preheat the oven to 400 degrees for about at least 20 minutes.

If you're using a ceramic baking stone, preheat the oven to 475 for at least half an hour so the stone can get really hot, then turn the oven down to 400 immediately upon placing the dough into the oven.

If you will be baking on metal sheets, you can just slide the dough, still on the paper, right onto the sheets when ready. If you're going to bake your bread on a preheated baking stone, you can still give the dough its final proof on cornmeal over parchment, but then gently move the proofed loaves onto a cornmeal-dusted baker's peel (that's what I did) to transfer them to the hot stone.

Before putting the dough into the oven, use a little misting bottle of water (or, if no misting bottle, you can do this by wetting your hands and then gently patting the loaves) to moisten the top of the loaves. This will help prevent the loaves from bursting open as they bake. Also, it's a good idea to squirt misty water quickly into the oven upon placing the dough in there, creating a nice steamy atmosphere (just don't aim right for the oven light).

Bake the loaves for about 20-25 minutes or so, until they're quite golden brown on the top and bottom. (The internal temperature of the loaves should be at least 190 when they're done; you can stick a quick-read stem thermometer in the bottom of each loaf if you like. Under-baked bread will be noticeably dense/gummy inside, and just feel heavier when you handle it right out of the oven.)

Let the loaves cool on a rack for at least half an hour before slicing.