“In Greek myth, bread is sacred to that irascible but generous goddess, Demeter, who taught young Triptolemus the art of agriculture, including the cultivation of grain.
The invention of bread in Neolithic times marks a key stage in man’s progress from hunter to farmer and shepherd. The Romans construed a divine origin for bread, deeming that the word panis derived from the sylvan god Pan, allegedly the first to have cooked the grain that Ceres gave to man. Indeed, the image of Pan was actually reproduced on loaves of bread. To make bread, the best grain was selected and stone-ground. The resulting flour was mixed with oil and water and leavened with fermented dough…
The bread in art seems to be a symbol both of charity, as a staple food in many cultures, and of the Eucharist. The basket of bread can be taken as an emblem of good works”.
from “Food and Feasting in Art”
Makes: one large round loaf
For the sponge:
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F)
- 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour ( I used bread flour)
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used all-purpose flour)
For the dough:
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup water
- the sponge (above)
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour ( I used bread flour)
- 1 cup whole wheat flour (I used all-purpose flour)
- 1 Tbsp. salt
To make the sponge: Put about 1/4 cup of the warm water into the bowl of a mixer and sprinkle over the yeast, stirring to mix. Allow the yeast to rest for about 5 minutes, until it turns creamy, before adding the rest of the water. Stir the flours together and add them to the yeast mixture a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until sponge has the consistency of pancake batter.
Cover the bowl with a towel and let the sponge rest at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours. I start this process 11:30pm, then I went to sleep. By the lunchtime next day I baked a fresh bread for my sandwich.
To make the dough: Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Scrape the sponge into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment and add the other 1/2 cup of warm water to that bowl. Combine 3 cups of the bread flour with the whole wheat flour.
Gradually add 2 cups of the flour mixture into the mixer bowl, while it runs on low speed. Once it has mixed for 3 minutes, add the yeast mixture until incorporated. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and allow it to mix in. Work the remaining flour mixture in until the dough starts to “clean” the sides of the bowl (if you need to, add a tad more bread flour until this happens). Increase the mixer speed to medium and allow to knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough begins to look smooth and satiny; it should feel slightly sticky.
Turn the dough into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough double in volume, for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Prepare a banneton (measuring 8″ across base) or a large basket or colander lined with a linen towel by rubbing with flour. Set aside until needed.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a flat round with your fingers and palms. Fold the four “edges” in and press down with the heel of your hand, then flip the dough over and work it against the counter with your cupped hands to form a tight ball. Repeat this process (flattening, folding, tightening) four more times. Turn the loaf over and lay it into the prepared banneton/basket/bowl, smooth side down.
Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for about another 1 hour.
To bake the bread: Preheat oven to 425°F.
When the dough has risen fully, sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and carefully invert your risen dough onto it. Spray the oven walls with water and immediately close the door to trap the steam.
Using a very sharp knife or a single-edge razor slash your bread a few times, cutting 1/2 inch deep. Open the oven and the baking tray with a dough, turn the oven down to 400°F, and quickly spray the oven walls again. Close oven quickly. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden color. The loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and should register at least 200° F when an instant-read thermometer is inserted into the center.
Remove loaf and allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting. It is really best to allow the bread to cool to room temperature before cutting.
slightly adapted from “Baking with Julia” (I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes to bake.)