The easiest bread you'll ever make!
This is basically the recipe from King Arthur Flour and is featured in their "200th Anniversary Cookbook". They state, and rightfully so, that "...this is the easiest loaf of bread you will ever make." If you yearn to begin making something besides sandwich loaves, try this one first. I've updated their recipe from using active dry yeast to using instant yeast---hey, it saves 10 minutes! *LOL* I've also updated and expanded on their basic instructions to help beginning bakers.
Yields 2 loaves

6 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour -- (26 oz.)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt (kosher or fine sea salt preferred)
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 1/3 cups water (95-105 degrees F.) -- (15 oz.)
Cornmeal for baking sheet
Topping as desired (see below)

MANUAL METHOD: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour with the sugar, salt and yeast. Add water and mix thoroughly until the the flour is fully hydrated and the dough reaches a shaggy mass and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 10-12 minutes adding more flour or water as needed.

MIXER METHOD: Fit the mixer with the dough hook and whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the water and mix on low speed 5 minutes, until the dough ha sformed a shaggy mass. Mix on medium speed 2 minutes until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl, adding more flour or water as needed. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and finish kneading by hand 2 minutes or until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic.

The dough should be tacky but not sticky and should should pass the windowpane test*

FERMENTATION: Form the dough into a large ball, stretching it across the top and folding and tucking under. Place dough into a large oiled non-metallic bowl, turning to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place (about 78 degrees F.) to rise until doubled in size, from 1 to 2 hours (usually about 1-1/2).

TURNING: If time permits, after about 40-45 minutes, "turn" the dough. To turn the dough, dump the dough onto the board and carefully stretch it out into a rectangle with the palms of your hands. Fold it up like a letter--- the bottom third; then fold the top third over that. Then fold again the other way. Form the dough into a large ball again. Return the dough to the bowl, re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to finish rising until double its original size. ( To determine if it's ready to shape, poke a finger into the dough ball---if it does not spring back, it's ready to shape.)

SHAPING: Line a shallow 15x10-inch baking pan with parchment paper and sprinkle the paper with coarse cornmeal (about 2 teaspoons). Gently turn the dough out onto the floured surface, degassing it as little as possible. Using a bench knife or other sharp knife, cut the dough cleanly in half (try not to use a sawing motion). Shape each half into either a long French-style baguette or a short Italian-style loaf, stretching it across the top and folding and tucking the bottom part unde, then pinching it closed into a seam on the bottom.

PROOFING: Place shaped loaves, seam side down, onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a proof box or lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in size, 40-50 minutes.

BAKING: After the loaves have been proofing for about 20 minhutes, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Place a rack in the middle part of the oven. Prepare desired topping, if using. When the loaves are ready, use a lame or sharp knife to slash the tops of the loaves about 1/4" deep. Brush with prepared topping.

Place pan into the oven and spritz the oven walls with water, close the oven door. Spritz two more times 30 seconds apart; then reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Bake loaves 25-30 minutes. After 15 minutes, check if they are browning too fast or unevenly. If so, turn the pan 180 degrees and continue baking, tenting with foil if needed to prevent burning. Bread is done when the internal temperature registers 205 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaves (try picking up one loaf and inserting the thermometer into the bottom of the loaves). It should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Cool loaves completely on a wire rack.

- 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water.
- 1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon water
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
- Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds or poppy seeds after brushing with egg wash.

* WINDOWPANE TEST: After kneading, tear off a small ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. Begin stretching it until very thin but not broken. Hold the dough up to the light and if it's translucent without tearing, it's ready. If the dough tears, it needs a little more kneading.

ALTERNATIVE OVERNIGHT FERMENTATION: During the mixing stage, use room temperature water instead of warm water. After kneading is complete, immediately place the covered bowl with the dough into the refrigerator overnight or a maximum 12-14 hours. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and plut in warm place to come to room temperature and finish rising. This should take a total of from 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

ALTERNATIVE OVERNIGHT PROOFING: Place the pan with the shaped loaves into a food grade plastic bag (do not use plastic trash bags--a Reynolds Oven Bag is good for this) and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the pan from the plastic bag, cover losely with a proof box or lightly oiled plastic wrap, and allow to come to room temperature and finish proofing to almost double its original shaped size before baking. This should take a total of from 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Begin preheating the oven at 2 hours.
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NOTES : The alternative fermentation and proofing processes are primarily for the purpose allowing tne enzymes and yeast to fully distribute and develop, and to develop more flavor in the finished loaves.

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Copyright 2003 Carol Stevens, Shaboom's Kitchen, All Rights Reserved