Basic Bread

The secret of this basic bread dough is that flour is added to the liquids, rather than the other way round, which is what most regular bread recipes call for. Adding flour into the liquid allows the gluten and fibers to absorb more water, and as a result you get a more pliable dough and a moister, less crumbly bread. In other words, your bread tastes better! We learned this technique through Patricia Wells' excellent book At Home in Provence. In our house we use freshly ground spelt flour, but any good quality bread flour will work. Be creative and try to add other grains than wheat or spelt. Just keep wheat or spelt to 50% or more to provide gluten which makes your bread springy.


1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water (yeast is like you, it loves water at your body temperature or slightly warmer, so make it happy and it will work great for you)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (we use sea salt)
about 4 cups of bread flour

Combine yeast, sugar and 1 cup of warm water and mix lightly. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Add the remaining water and stir in the oil and salt.
Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing slowly until most of the flour has been absorbed and the dough forms a ball.
Transfer the dough to a clean, slightly floured work surface.
Knead the dough by pushing away from you, lengthening it.
Fold the dough over, turn it a quarter turn, and push it out again. Visualize that you are forming an intricate, crosswise network of gluten fibers to provide structure for your bread.
Knead in this manner for at least 5 minutes. Add flour if necessary to keep the dough from becoming overly sticky, but keep it soft and satiny, even slightly sticky. (Kneading bread dough is very therapeutic, which is why we don't use a machine in our house.)
Transfer the dough to a plastic bag or bowl (cover the bowl), and let the dough rise until doubled or tripled in size. You can let the dough rise overnight in your refrigerator, or 2 to 3 hours at room temperature. The overnight method yields a slightly smoother bread.
Punch down the dough, shape into bread loaves or rolls, place onto floured baking pan and let rise until double in bulk. If you are in a hurry you can put the breads into the cold oven and use the warm up period to accelerate the rising process.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to even out temperature and humidity.
Place bread into the oven, spray oven bottom and walls with water (use a garden mister), and spray a couple more times during the next few minutes.
Bake the bread until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 40 minutes from start for a medium size loaf.
Transfer to a rack and let cool. The bread continues to bake during the cooling period.

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