THE MASTER RECIPE: ARTISAN FREE-FORM LOAF
Makes four 1-lb. loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
3 c. lukewarm water
1½ Tbs. granulated yeast (1½ packets)
1½ Tbs. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ c. unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100°F. Warm water will make the dough rise to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold tap water and get identical final results; then the rising will take 3 or even 4 hours. That won’t be too great a difference as you will only be doing this once per stored batch.
Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all dissolved. Mix in flour; kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry ingredients measuring cups, by gently scooping up flour, 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, a high capacity food processor (14 c. or larger) fitted with the dough attachment or a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, 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 bowl with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead; it isn’t necessary. You are finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you are using. Do not use screw-top bottles or Mason jars which could explode. Lidded plastic buckets designed for dough storage are readily available. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattened on top), approximately 2 hours depending on the room’s temperature and the original water temperature. Longer rising times up to 5 hours will not harm the results. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. 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 is best to refrigerate the dough overnight or at least 2 hours before shaping loaf.
The scoop-and-sweep method of measuring flour gives consistent results without sifting or weighing. It’s easier to scoop and sweep if you store your flour in a bin rather the bag it’s sold in. It can be hard to get the measuring cups in a bag without making a mess. Also, don’t use an extra large 2 c. capacity measuring cup, which allows the flour to over-pack and measures too much flour.