The unique delayed-fermentation method, which depends on ice-cold water, releases flavors trapped in flour in a way different from the more traditional twelve-stage method.
6 cups unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 to 3 cups water, ice cold
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
- Combine flour, salt, yeast, and 2 1/2 cups of water in the bowl of the electric mixer and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl.
- Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.
- The next day, check the dough to see if it has risen in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size. Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting.
- When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about 1/2 cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Try to degas the dough as little as possible as you transfer it.
- Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches (20cm) long and 6 inches (15cm) wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it.
- Dip a metal pastry scraper (or knife) into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half width-wise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use this blade as a saw; use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut). Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.
- Take one of the dough pieces and repeat the cutting action, but this time cut off 3 equal-sized lengths. Then do the same with the remaining half. This should give you 6 lengths.
- Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough and transfer it to a parchment-linen pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan. If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again. Depending on your pan size, place 3 strips on the pan. Prepare another pan, and repeat with the remaining strips.
- Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C) and make sure to have an empty steam pan in place.
- Score the dough strips as for baquettes, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts if the dough co-operates, if not skip this step.
- Place the pans inside the oven. Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door, spray the side walls of the oven with water, and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, turn the oven setting down to 475° (245°C) and continue baking.
- Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour,mist with spray oil, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don’t plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day. If you’d like to bake them as rustic, cibatta-style breads, leave them at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours and then bake. As the loaves proof, they will resemble and perform like ciabatta.
- The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown.
- Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes.
Source: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart