French Bread From A Starter

Courtesy of Jennifer Coalwell

Sponge (poolish):
1/4 cup dark rye flour
1 cup white, whole wheat or multigrain flour
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup sourdough starter at room temperature or warmer

Dough:
1 tsp granulated yeast – regular, instant, or bread machine. (I use regular)
1 cup warm water
3 cups flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill white)
2 tsp salt or 1Tbsp Kosher salt
1 egg white whisked with 2 tablespoons water for glaze

On the evening before you want to bake the bread, make the sponge by combining the flours, water, and starter in the bread machine pan. Process on the dough setting and let it sit in the bread machine overnight. Next morning, add the bread ingredients (except egg wash) to the pan and process again on the dough setting. NOTE! If you’re using regular yeast, mix it into the warm water, let it dissolve then add to the poolish.

Once the second dough cycle is complete and the dough has risen to the top of the pan, remove it to a work surface that you have dusted with flour. You’ll see that you have a wet, soft dough and that’s what you want. Knead briefly, form into a ball and let rest under a bowl for 10 minutes or so to relax.

Divide the dough in two pieces and form into 2 long loaves. Place in a French loaf pan for the final rise. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let them rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours. (I let mine rise in the oven with the light on.)

Preheat the oven to 450deg. for about 30 minutes. Just before baking, brush the loaves with the egg wash, sprinkle liberally with seeds of choice (or none) – I use poppy and sesame, slash the loaves diagonally with a razor or sharp knife 3 or 4 times (a sharp serrated knife works well), then quickly pop into the preheated oven on the middle rack. Spritz the oven 4 or 5 times with plain water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake the loaves until done, 26- 28 minutes for French loaves. The crust will be a lovely caramel color. Turn the bread out and cool on a rack.

Yield: 2 Baguettes, round loaves, or 1 large round loaf

Notes:
I bake in a convection oven at 425 deg. using bottom heat.

When I withdraw the 3/4 Cup starter from my jug, I replace it with a mix of 1/2 to 3/4 Cups bread flour and a like quantity of warm water. Allow it to begin working before refrigerating. It will keep for at least 2 weeks but it is better to refresh it weekly. If I’m in a hurry to start, I’ll set the jug of starter in a bowl of warm water till it begins to “work”.

Once you’re used to the procedure, you’ll be able to turn out 2 loaves with a net input of time of 15 to 20 minutes -MAX.
If you want to freeze a loaf or two, add 2 Tbsp. oil to the second cycle.