Closely adapted from Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Note: this is a 2+ day method, requiring the use of a biga. Read through the recipe before you begin to make sure you have an idea of the timing. Also note that the biga makes 18 oz, exactly what you need for the rest of the recipe, which makes 2 loaves. You can adjust the amounts up or down (halve or multiple) to make more or less loaves. See my notes above about making extra biga and keeping it in the freezer.
Day 1: Biga:
2 1/2cups(11.25 oz) unbleached bread flour (you can sub AP if need be)
Day 2, 3, or 4: Making the bread:
3 1/2cups(18 oz) biga (see above)
2 1/2cups(11.25 oz) unbleached bread flour (or AP flour)
1tdiastatic barley malt powderoptional (I did not use as I do not have)
1Tdecent extra virgin olive oilnot your pricey stuff though
Making the biga:
Stir together the flour and yeast–you can do this in a mixer, my preference, or by hand. Add the water–starting with 7 oz or 3/4 cup. Stir until it comes together and makes a coarse ball. Adjust the water or flour as needed, to make a dough that is neither excessively sticky or stiff. Reinhart notes that at this stage it is better to err on the sticky side.
Either by hand or using a dough hook, knead the dough for 4-6 minutes (4 minutes on medium low speed with a dough hook). The dough should be soft and pliable but not sticky. Lightly oil a deep bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until nearly doubled, 2-4 hours.
After the dough has doubled, knead it lightly to degas, and then place it back in the bowl. Cover again with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or place it in freezer bags and store it in the freezer (if you only want to bake one loaf at a time, divide the dough in half and store the 2 halves separately). Let it rest at the minimum overnight.
Making the bread:
Remove the biga from the fridge 1 hour before baking (if using from the freezer, defrost overnight in the fridge and then, once thaw, remove it one hour before beginning bread recipe). Cut it into approximately 10 pieces now, while it is cold and easy to slice. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and leave to warm up.
Stir together, in a large bowl or mixer bowl, the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and optional malt powder. Add the olive oil, biga and 3/4 cup (7 oz) water and stir until a ball forms. Add more water or flour as needed to get a shaggy but fairly cohesive ball. Transfer to kneading–either by hand or with the dough hook. The dough should be slightly sticky and soft–but not super sticky. When it is where you want it, knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed (10 minutes by dough hook or hand). Lightly oil a deep bowl and place the dough inside it. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
Gently divide the dough into 2 pieces of about 18 ounces each (for batards–you can also make torpedo rolls of about 4 ounces each). Gently–try not to degas the dough too much but also don’t get too hung up on this–stretch the dough into a rough rectangle about 12 inches long. Fold the dough as though you were folding an 8X11 sheet of paper to mail–fold the bottom third up and then fold the top third down. Use your hands to gently seal the dough and increase the surface tension. Accept that your batards will not be perfect unless you are super experienced (I am not). They’ll taste great either way.
If I am baking a lot of loaves, I bake them on parchment paper right on the cookie sheets that they rise on. For just one loaf, however, I place my pizza stone in the oven and I place the batard on parchment paper on a rim-less cookie sheet (or a baker’s peel if you have one). Lightly spray the tops of the loaves with oil and then gently lay plastic wrap over them. Let rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes. They will rise to 1 1/2 times their original size.
Minutes before baking, prep your oven. Place a rimmed jelly roll pan or a cast iron skillet on the bottom of the oven. Turn the oven on to 500 F and bring a kettle or pot of water to boil.
When it is time to bake your bread, use your sharpest knife and make 3 diagonal slashes on your loaves. This is something I still struggle with; just do your best. (They have special baker’s razors you can buy but I’ve never gotten one.)
When it is time for the loaves to bake, make sure you have several things ready before opening the oven. Have a spray bottle with water ready, and have the hot water that you boiled ready. Also have a dry towel that will cover your oven door ready. Open the oven and place your loaves inside (either on their sheets or slide the parchment off of the sheet onto a baking stone). Working quickly, cover the oven glass with the dry towel (this is important-the slightest drop of water will cause your glass to crack in that hot of an oven. Trust me, I know). Pour the hot water into the cookie sheet or skillet in the bottom of the oven. Immediately spray the sides of the oven and shut the oven door. Wait 30 seconds and open, repeat the towel and spray parts. Repeat again 30 seconds later (so you will have sprayed 3 times).
After the final spray, reduce the oven temperature to 450 F for a softer bread or 400 F for a crustier bread. Unless you have a convection oven, plan to rotate the bread for even baking halfway through. At 450 F the loaves will take about 20 minutes to finish; at 400 F it will take a little longer. Watch for the crust to become golden brown and then check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer–it should register 200 F.
Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and let cool for 1 hour before slicing.