I have baked bread for the family every Sunday and Wednesday now for almost ten years. I really enjoy bread and I have so many favorites that it's hard to choose just one. I have begged, borrowed, and stolen techniques and formulas from whomever and wherever they can be found. I am by no means the creator of this recipe. Although I have seen many different versions over the years, and I am sure all have had their influence, I have to give credit to two bakers who have influenced me and this bread the most: Peter Reinhart and Jeffrey Hamelman. If you want to make bread, search out their books.
I used to make sourdough only, but with the increase in quality flour prices, it just got to expensive to feed the beast (the starter). So I looked elsewhere for flavor.
Why this bread? The cold fermentation and amylase period create a flavor profile that no other breads have. It is nutty and has a mild sweetness. It's a simple dough to make with a mixer fitted with a dough hook—though it's very wet and not so simple to handle. The addition of the olive oil makes the crust tender-crisp not crunchy-crisp. I add the oil because I am willing to give up that crunch for shelf life. The crumb in this is exceptionally tender. I use a baking stone, but if you don't have one, use a parchment-lined sheet tray to bake the bread. I also place an old cast-iron skillet in the bottom of the oven to create steam. —thirschfeld
Test Kitchen Notes
The dough was fantastic to work with -- simple to knead and gather, both by hand and with the stand mixer/dough hook. (I made the recipe twice. I added 1 more teaspoon of salt on the second round.) Loved the toasted wheat germ and the texture and scent it provided the bread. I'm glad I had eight loaves to learn the "cut and lift to the parchment paper" method. On the 8th loaf, I had it down. This is a nice recipe for a soft crusted loaf, perfect for paninis or bahn mi. Thirschfeld's instructions are clear and it's just a miracle -- all that ice cold water is added to flour and you end up with these pretty loaves. - MrsWheelbarrow
four 12-inch baguettes
2 1/2 cups
ice water, as close to 32° F as possible
To measure the ice water, I fill an 8-cup measure half with ice and the rest with cold water. Then I pour off 2 1/2 cups cold water.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the hook attachment, place 1/4 cup of ice water and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the yeast dissolve.
Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups of the ice water, the flour, wheat germ and salt. Mix with a dough hook. As the dough comes together, add the olive oil. The dough probably won't even gather around the hook, but it should pull around it. If it seems too loose, err on the side of a stiff dough and add more flour in 1/4-cup increments. You should see gluten development.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle the counter with a good 1 1/2 of flour into about a 12- by 12-inch square.
Flour your hands and dump the dough gently onto the flour. Spread it out to be about 8 inches by 8 inches. Dust the top of the dough with a good coating of flour and then spray it with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Set a timer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and heat the oven to 500° F. Place a cast-iron skillet in the bottom of the oven. Keep it close to the edge, as you will be pouring water into it.
After the bread timer sounds, gently remove the plastic wrap. If some of the dough is stuck to it, pinch it and gently pull to get it off.
Place a piece of parchment onto a peel (or sheet tray, if you are not using a stone). Sprinkle it with cornmeal.
Using a dough cutter dipped in water, cut the dough into 4 pieces. (If your oven or stone isn't big enough, only cut what will fit on your stone or in the oven and leave the remainder of the dough whole and covered until needed.) Score the loaves in several places using a sharp knife or a razor blade. Place the peel right next to the dough.
Now the tricky part. You want to do this quickly. Put one hand at each end of the loaf. Lift it—the middle will start to stretch and drop—and quickly move it to the peel and stretch back to 12 inches. Repeat with what will fit on your peel or fit in your oven. I do two loaves at a time.
Slide the dough onto the stone. Carefully, but quickly, pour a half cup of water into the skillet and shut the door. Turn the heat down to 450° F and set a timer for 12 minutes. Do not open the door.
When the timer goes off, rotate the bread 180° and bake and additional 4 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining loaves.