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Be sure and read through the directions a couple times before you get started. It is easy, but I found the wording is a little tricky the first time I made this. And check out my notes at the end for some easy changes I made.
Artisan Free Form Loaf--Makes 2 loaves
3 C lukewarm water
1 1/2 T yeast
1 1/2 T kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Cornmeal for pizza peel
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temp, 100 degrees.
2. Add yeast and salt to water in 5-quart bowl or, preferably in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.
3. Mix in flour-kneading is unnecessary. Add all of flour at once, gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with knife; don't press down into flour as you scoop or you'll have too much flour! Mix in standing mixer with dough hook attachment until mixture is uniform. Don't knead! No dry patches! This will yield a dough that is uniformly moist, wet, and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.
4. Allow to rise. Cover with lid but do not put on air tight. 2 hours. Fully refrigerate dough-3 hours or overnight.
5. The gluten cloak: Don't knead, just cloak and shape a loaf 30-60 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it doesn't stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it's not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom doesn't need to look pretty but the correctly shaped loaf will be smooth and cohesive on top. This should only take 30-60 seconds.
6. Rest the loaf and let rise on pizza peel. 40 minutes-don't cover.
7. Preheat oven and pizza stone on middle rack at 450. Place a broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.
8. Dust and slash. Dust top of loaf with flour and cut with serrated knife in cross pattern about 1/4 inch deep. Or tick-tack-toe looks nice too.
9. Baking with steam. After preheat, slide loaf onto pizza stone. Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup hot water from tap into the broiler tray and close oven to trap steam. Bake for about 30 minutes or until crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Let cool on wire rack. You can store remaining dough in refrigerator for 14 days. Leave in plastic container with lid on but not airtight.
I have had people ask "what is a pizza peel?" It's the thing you put pizza on to put it in and out of the oven! If you don't have one, never fear, you can still make this recipe! I don't own one and I make it all the time. I use a flimsy, plastic cutting board covered in cornmeal. I just put the dough on the edge while it rises. Then I sprinkle more cornmeal on the hot baking stone before I slide my dough on. It isn't quite as convenient, but it works! I don't have room in my kitchen to store a pizza peel.