Everyone needs a good recipe for a basic crusty bread. It is a welcome accompaniment to almost any meal and guests are always impressed to find you made something so delicious yourself. As with many homemade yeast breads, this one is fairly simple. Most of the work is simply waiting for the dough to rise in its various stages. The preferment is made the day or night before you make the bread, and this adds great flavor a bit reminiscent of sourdough. This particular version has a nice crunchy crust but a soft, light and chewy interior. Heavenly! I like to serve it with a homemade garlic butter of some sort and lately I have been loving the compound herb butter I made at Thanksgiving. This recipe makes two large loaves and even if you don’t plan on needing them immediately, I recommend making both anyway and keeping one in the freezer so you have it on hand at a moment’s notice.
For the preferment:
1 cup water
1 cup bread flour
½ tsp. instant yeast
For the dough:
All of the preferment
5 cups bread flour
½ cup nonfat dry milk
1 tbsp. brown sugar or granulated sugar
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups water, at room temperature
To make the preferment, combine the water, flour and yeast in a medium bowl. Mix well to blend, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours and up to 16 hours.
When you are ready to make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the preferment, 4 cups of the flour, dry milk, sugar, salt, yeast, olive oil and water. Mix on low speed until a sticky dough has formed. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour ¼ cup at a time. Continue kneading on low speed until the flour has been incorporated (you may need to add even more than 5 cups) and you have a dough that is smooth and elastic, and no longer sticky. The total kneading time should be about 10 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a well greased bowl, turning once to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until approximately doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch down the dough, cover once more, and let rise again for 30 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough once or twice and divide into two equal portions. Cover the two pieces of dough with a damp towel and allow to relax for 20 minutes.
Shape the two portions of dough into the desired final shape and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat (I used a baguette pan). Cover again with a damp kitchen towel and let rise until approximately doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Just before placing the loaves in the oven, brush or spray them lightly with water. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes before rotating them. Bake another 20-30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200˚ F. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.