This Italian favorite is a soul-nourishing bread that crisp-crackles on the outside and melts in your mouth on the inside! Yes, it does need a little time (a little loving over three days), but it is truly a joyful experience to make and eat!
Before You Start
You’ll need a starter for this recipe. (Make friends with people who have a working starter because every time they feed their starter, there’s extra to be tossed out or given to friends. You don’t need very much: a 1/4 cup to start with will do. If you don’t know anyone with starter, try making your own starter.
The Day Before
Remove 1/4 cup (57 g) starter from the fridge in the morning and feed it 57 g unchlorinated spring water and 57 g all-purpose flour.
Leave it lightly covered at room temperature all day.
12 hours later, discard all but 113 g (1/2 cup) of starter and feed it 113 g of all-purpose flour and 113 g spring water.
Cover it again and leave it overnight on your kitchen counter.
In the morning, repeat the feeding you did the night before. (113/113/113). [Note: on Bread Day, I feed my starter between 7-8 a.m. and mix my bread 12-4 pm, but feel free to adjust the timing to your schedule. The important thing is that you mix your bread dough when your starter is active. This happens when it’s doubled in size and when a small spoonful of dough in a glass of water floats (usually 3-6 hours after feeding). Don’t wait too long after it’s doubled; if the dough begins to collapse, it won’t be as optimal.
Once it is active, measure out 200g (1-1/3 cups) of the starter and put it in a medium sized bowl.
[If you’re new to working with starter: Keep your leftover starter after you’ve measured out the 200 g for your bread. This is NOT discard but will be the base starter for future loaves. I’ve named mine ‘Betty White’! At this point, feed her one more time and let her hang out at room temperature for an hour to digest properly and then return her, covered, to the fridge. She can hang out in the fridge for a week or more then without daily feedings.]
Time to Make the Bread!!
12:00 pm Mix dough until it forms a shaggy ball:
2-1/2 cups (525 g) natural spring water at 80° F
1-1/3 cup (200 g) active starter
5-7/8 cups (700 g) bread flour
12:15 pm Autolyse (rest) for 45 minutes. [An autolyse is the gentle mixing of the flour and water in a bread recipe, followed by a 20 to 60 minute rest period. After the rest, the remaining ingredients are added and the folding process begins. This simple pause allows for some rather magical changes to occur in your bread dough.]
1 pm Sprinkle 20 grams (3-1/2 tsp) Diamond Crystal kosher salt over dough. Pinch it into the dough to drive salt in (if using regular table salt, use 3 tsp).
Stretch and Fold* 4-5 times and let sit, uncovered, for 30 minutes. (See a demonstration of Stretch and Fold here: https://youtu.be/QYzxulQY1Gc)
1:30 pm Repeat*
2:00 pm Repeat*
2:30 pm Repeat*
3:00 pm Your dough should now stretch without breaking. Cover and bulk rise for 60 minutes at room temperature
4:00 pm Cover bowl with plastic bag and put in fridge for 12-18 hours
5-1/2-7-1/2 hours are needed before bread comes out of oven (depending on whether you do a 2 or 4 hour rest)
8 am Remove bowl from fridge and let rise for two hours uncovered
10 am Release dough onto countertop, cut dough into two parts and shape each part into a round loaf
10:10 am Cover with tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes
10:40 am Flour two baskets liberally with rice flour (coat well). Gently stretch dough lengthwise. Then stretch dough from the side over 1/3 of the loaf. Repeat on other side. Then fold over from the top and then again from the bottom. Gently drop into basket, seam side up. Repeat with second loaf. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
One Hour Before Baking
Preheat oven to 450°F (232°C) and place empty Dutch oven inside. (If you don’t own a Dutch oven, a lovely alternative is heating a pizza stone with a large round metal bowl upside down on it for an hour. When it’s time to bake, lift the bowl and slide the dough (on parchment) onto the pizza stone and cover it back up with the bowl.)
Release one of the cold doughs onto parchment paper and score bread with sharp knife in a pattern of your choosing (not deeper than 1/4″).
Open oven, take lid off Dutch oven, carefully place dough (still on parchment paper) into it and place lid back on. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove lid (or bowl) and bake for another 20 minutes.
Remove loaf #1 and place on a cooling rack.
For the second loaf, return the Dutch oven (or bowl) to the oven for at least 15 minutes. When sufficiently hot, add the second dough (keep refrigerated until it’s time). Bake as with the first.
Recipe inspired by King Arthur Flour and Ken Forkish (Flour Water Salt Yeast)