Nancy Silverton’s Rustic Bread

Nancy Silverton’s Rustic Bread

2 2/3 C. lukewarm water (70°F)

 2 C. plus 2 T. white sourdough starter (or grape starter)

 1 t. packed fresh yeast

 7 2/3 C. bleached white bread flour

1 T. sea salt

3 T. cold milk

3 T. extra-virgin olive oil

semolina flour, for dusting

Place 2 1/3 cups water, white starter, yeast and bread flour in the bowl of a mixer and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, just to moisten. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and mix the dough on medium speed for 6 minutes. Turn the mixer off and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

Add salt and mix on medium speed for 2 more minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary.

Place milk, olive oil and remaining1/3 cup water in a small bowl and stir together. With the mixer on low speed, very gradually add the liquids to the dough. Don’t add the liquids too rapidly or they will slosh out of the bowl. Continue mixing on low until the ingredients are completely incorporated and then beat on high speed for 4 minutes.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to ferment at room temperature for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until it reaches the top of the bowl and doubles in volume. Sprinkle the work surface heavily with flour and pour the dough out to form a rough oval. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, cover it with a cloth and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.

Cut 2 pieces of parchment paper approximately 12 x 16-inches and place them side-by-side on the work surface. Sprinkle the papers heavily with the semolina, then with bread flour. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the top with more bread flour.

In a single continuous motion, cut the dough with a dough cutter into 2 equal pieces, carefully pulling the dough apart with your free hand as you go. Without pausing, carefully scoop up 1 piece of the dough, using the dough cutter and your free hand to hold each end, and lay the dough on a pieces of parchment paper, allowing the dough to stretch as it falls to form an oblong shape approximately 8 x 10 inches in area and 1 1/2 inches thick. It’s more important to get the proper thickness than the right width or length. Repeat the procedure with the second piece of dough.

Using your index fingers, dimple each piece of dough at random 2-inch intervals, being sure to press through all the way through to the parchment paper.

Lightly sprinkle the dough tops with bread flour and semolina. Cover each with a cloth and allow them to proof at room temperature for 2 hours. Test for readiness by lightly pressing two fingers into the dough. The dough should feel soft and alive, not longer sticky.

Open the oven door and heavily spritz the oven with water from a spray bottle and quickly close the door. Keeping the parchment paper under the dough, slide the baker’s peel (a large baking spatula) under 1 piece of dough.

Open the oven door, slide the dough and the parchment paper onto a pizza stone and quickly close the door. Spritz and load the second piece of dough in the same manner as the first. Turn the temperature down to 450°F. Spritz the oven with water 2 more times during the next 5 minutes. Refrain from opening the oven door for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, slide the peel between the bread and the parchment paper and remove the paper. Return the bread to the baking tiles and rotate if necessary to ensure even baking. Continue baking another 5 minutes. With the peel, flip the bread upside down to allow even browning. Bake another 5 to 8 minutes for a total of 30 to 33 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and place them on a cooling rack. When the bread is cooled, dust off excess flour.

Nancy Silverton’s Grape Starter

2 C. bread flour

2 1/2 C. unchlorinated water

1/2 lb. unwashed organic red grapes, stemmed

Wrap the grapes in well washed cheesecloth, tying the corners to form a bag; lightly crush them with a rolling pin (to release the sugar to mix with the natural yeast on the skins; just like making wine!) and immerse them in the flour water mix. Cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Leave at room temperature for 6 days, stirring once or twice a day for six days.

The bag of grapes will eventually appear inflated, and liquid will begin to separate from the flour base. The mixture will begin to taste and smell slightly fruity, and the color will be strange. That is as it should be. By the sixth day the bag of grapes will have deflated, the color will be yellow, and the taste pleasantly sour; the fermentation is complete. The starter is living but weak, and it needs to be fed.

Remove the grapes and squeeze their juices back into the starter. Stir it up thoroughly and transfer it to a clean container. (Although you can use it after just one feeding, the starter will be stronger and healthier with the full treatment) You can refrigerate it until you’re ready to proceed.

Three days before you plan to use it, stir 1 cup flour and 1 cup water into the container, blending well. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until it bubbles up — 3 to 4 hours — then cover and refrigerate. Repeat this the second and third day.

Store the starter tightly covered in the refrigerator where it will keep perfectly for 4 to 6 months, after which it’s a good idea to pour off all but 2 cups and give it another feeding. Before using the stored starter for bread, however, give it the full 3-day feeding schedule once again to restore it and to tone down excess sourness.

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