Recipe courtesy of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)

  • Yield: 4 loaves
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Ingredients

3 cups lukewarm water (100 degrees F or below)

1 tablespoon granulated yeast

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

6 1/2 cups (scoop and sweep) all-purpose flour

Cornmeal or parchment paper, for the pizza peel

Directions

  1. Mixing and Storing the Dough 
  2. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F. By using warm water, the dough will rise to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold water and get the same final result, but the yeast rising will take longer (see "Tips and Techniques," page 14). 
  3. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 6-quart bowl or, preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) food container or food- grade plastic bucket. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve. 
  4. Mix in the our-kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, or by weighing the ingredients. If you measure with cups, use the scoop-and-sweep method, gently scooping up our, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don't press down into the flour as you scoop or you'll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle) until the mixture is uniform. If you're hand-mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don't knead! It isn't necessary. You're finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield dough that is wet and loose enough to con- form to the shape of its container. 
  5. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid that ts well to the container but can be cracked open so it's not completely airtight-most plastic lids t the bill. If you're using a bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Towels don't work-they stick to wet dough. Lidded (or even vented) plastic buckets are readily available (see page 24). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), about 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature--then refrigerate it and use over the next fourteen days. If your container isn't vented, allow gases to escape by leaving it open a crack for the first couple of days in the fridge--after that, you can usually close it. If you forget about your rising dough on the counter, don't worry: longer rising times at room temperature, even overnight, will not harm the result (though egg-enriched dough should go into the fridge after 2 hours). You can use a portion of the dough any time after the 2-hour rise. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature, so the first time you try our method, it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or for at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf. Once refrigerated, the dough will seem to have shrunk back upon itself and it will never rise again in the bucket- that's normal. Whatever you do, do not punch down this dough. With our method, you're trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks gas out and will make your loaves denser.

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