One of my goals for 2012 is to make our bread (I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver while on vacation and now I'm inspired to make more local food choices....I highly recommend the book!) So here is my first attempt, based on a recipe I found at Allrecipes.com. I used regular flour instead of bread flour and subbed some whole wheat in as well. I forgot to add the salt so ours turned out to be a little lacking in flavor but it has enough promise that I'll try it again! Maybe I'll include some spelt or oat flour next time as well...with the salt, of course!
6 cups unbleached bread flour (I used 5 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons cornmeal for dusting
To make the sponge, whisk the 1/2 teaspoon yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Stir in the whole wheat flour until the mixture resembles a thick batter. Beat in mixer until combined (recipe suggests 100 strokes or until long strings of gluten form) Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 8 hours (longer is better for flavor development). You can also let the poolish ripen in the refrigerator for 12 to 15 hours, bringing it back to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
When the poolish is ready, it will be bubbly and loose, with a yeasty, sour aroma. Scrape the poolish into a bowl and stir in the 2 1/2 cups water and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon yeast. Stir well to combine. Add the bread flour 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition, until the dough becomes too difficult to stir.
Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead for 10 to 12 minutes, adding more flour only when the dough becomes too sticky to handle. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and knead it for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should have a smooth surface and spring back to the touch. Shape the dough into a round and cover with a damp cloth for 5 to 10 minutes.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the surface of the dough with oil. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 to 3 hours.
Deflate the dough and cut it into two pieces. Shape the dough into two rounds, cover them with plastic or a damp cloth, and allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Shape the dough into baguettes. Place a heavily floured cloth on a baking sheet, arranging a fold down the center to separate the loaves. Place the loaves, seam-side up, on the floured cloth. Dust the tops of the loaves with flour, cover with a damp towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk again, about two hours.
Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Gently transfer the risen loaves to the baking sheet, placing them seam-side down on the cornmeal. Make several diagonal slashes in the loaf with a serrated knife or razor blade.
Immediately place the scored loaves in the preheated oven. Bake the bread until the loaves are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the loaves on wire racks.