(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking)
This is a beautiful artisanal-type bread that's made using what is called a "sponge method" -- allowing the yeast to ferment for a relatively long period of time with some flour and liquid. The advantage of this method is that it allows the flavors to develop and you end up with an incredibly full-flavored bread. The other advantage is that you spend five minutes on it before you go to bed, spend 20 minutes on it the next day in between doing loads of laundry or running errands, and voila! You have two huge loaves of amazing bread.
For the sponge:
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry (NOT instant) yeast
half a bottle of dark beer
3 cups cool water
1 cup rolled oats (or any rolled mixed cereal blend)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups AP (plain) flour
Mix together, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit overnight at room temperature.
For the dough:
3 cups AP (plain) flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt (NOT iodized salt)
1 1/2 cup AP (plain) flour for work surface and pan
Mix whole wheat flour and salt into sponge, adding AP flour until mixture forms a ball. Turn out onto well floured work surface and knead for 5-7 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Do not add too much flour. The dough will be quite soft. Add only enough flour to prevent MAJOR sticking. I can't over-emphasize this! It's better to add too little flour than too much!
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Dust a work surface liberally with flour. Spread 1/2 - 3/4 cup flour on a large baking sheet. Gently deflate the dough, form carefully into a ball, and place on the floured pan. The book says at this point: "Do not be daunted by the softness of the dough." I think that's funny... but it's also true. It's a very soft dough! Sprinkle another 1/2 cup flour over the top of the loaves. Let rize for 30-45 minutes or until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200 Celsius).
When dough is doubled, using a large knife, GENTLY cut the round into halves, turn halves cut side up, spacing the loaves as far apart as you can get them, and place into the oven. Bake 35-40 minutes until they are lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped. Do not over-bake or the bread will be dry. Turn oven off and let the bread sit in the oven for ten minutes. Cool completely before slicing.
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