Italian French Stick Bread © llizard aka ejm 2000,2001,2002

adapted from recipe for Starter Dough Method Italian Pane Francese in The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz and various recipes in The Italian Baker by Carol Field

Ingredients

Preparation

  1. Starter Dough: In a small bowl, mix the yeast in the lukewarm water (do the baby's bottle test on your wrist) and make sure that it bubbles (about 10 minutes).

  2. In a bowl large enough for the starter dough (aka Starter Dough) to triple, add the flour a half a cup at a time mixing it in well with a wooden spoon. When the ingredients have been thoroughly combined, the Starter Dough will be quite soupy. Let the Starter Dough rise, covered, in a no-draught spot on the counter for 8 to 10 hours.

  3. Bread: To make the dough, add ½ cup of flour to the Starter Dough. Stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to add all but ½ cup of the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring all the time. To make a more rustic bread, use ½ c whole wheat flour and 1½ c white flour. You don't have to add all the flour. You know it's enough when the dough comes away from the side of the bowl. It will still be quite sticky.

  4. Dust the board with some of the last ½ c flour and then scrape the dough out of the bowl. Sprinkle salt over top. Use the extra flour to help you handle the wet dough. Using a dough scraper, knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes until it is smooth and silky. Scrape away any dough that is on the board. As you knead, add flour a very little at a time to stop it from sticking. The dough will still be quite loose.

  5. Put the dough in a lightly floured bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a no-draught place for 1 to 1½ hours. When the dough has doubled, deflate the dough and turn it out onto the board. Divide it in two equal pieces. Shape into rectangles and roll like jelly rolls to make 2 baguettes. Put them on a baking pan that has cornmeal sprinkled on the bottom of the pan. Wet your hands well and rub the dough. Sprinkle sesame seeds over each baguette. Cover with plastic wrap then a damp towel and let rise again to almost double (about 45 minutes).

  6. Thirty minutes before you are going to bake, turn oven to 500F. Put water into a broiling pan and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

  7. Slash the top of the baguettes with a very sharp knife at an almost horizontal angle. Spray the baguettes liberally with water. Put bread in oven and immediately turn the oven down to 450F. Bake the bread on the second lowest rack for 30 minutes or until it is hollow sounding on the bottom.

  8. Turn off the oven. Put the finished bread back in the oven and leave with the door ajar for 5 or 10 minutes. Remove to cool upended on cooling racks. Wait til the bread is cool before cutting it.

The broiling pan of water in the oven is to create steam at the beginning of the baking time to make very crusty bread.

Uneaten bread should be stored at room temperature rather than refrigerated. (the refrigerator causes the bread to go stale faster) Bread can also be stored in the freezer - double bagged airtight plastic. Take it out of the freezer and leave it in the bag until the bread has thawed. To reheat the bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the oven for ten minutes.

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