The Master Recipe: A Whole Grain Artisan Free-Form Loaf

Makes 4 (1 lb.) loaves
  • 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. (2 pkgs.) granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 4 cups lukewarm water (about 100°)
  • - pizza peel
  • - cornmeal or parchment paper
  • 1-2 tbsp. whole seed mixture for sprinkling: sesame, flaxseed, caraway, raw sunflower, poppy or anise
  • - baking stone

In 5qt. bowl or lidded plastic food-grade bucket, whisk together flours, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten; add the water all at once and mix without kneading, using a wooden spoon, until all ingredients are uniformly moist, producing a loose and very wet dough. Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (2-5 hrs.). DO NOT PUNCH DOWN! The risen dough can be baked immediately, or covered (not completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. The dough will be easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.

To Bake: Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven (or use a piece of parchment instead of a peel). Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1 lb. (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives or kitchen shears are best). Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the piece by quarter-turns as you form a ball. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it's not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 20 to 40 sec. If you work the dough longer than this it may make your loaf dense. Elongate the ball, stretch gently, and taper the ends by rolling between your palms. Allow to rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, on the prepared pizza peel for 90 min. (40 min. if you're using fresh, unrefrigerated dough). 30 min. before baking, preheat oven to 450°, with baking stone (or baking sheet) on middle rack. Place empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf. Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with water. Sprinkle with seed mixture and slash with 1/4" deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife. Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone (if you use parchment, put it with the loaf into the oven). Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door. Bake until the crust is richly browned and firm to the touch (about 30 min.).

Recipe from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: the Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking" (Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Press, Nov 2007),