From America's Test Kitchen Season 3: Rustic Bread at Home
Authentic rustic country bread should be made with little more than flour, water, yeast, and salt. We aimed to develop a reliable recipe for a big, crusty, pleasant loaf—one without shortcuts—made the old-fashioned way. We decided to focus our tests around using a sponge starter—a mixture of flour, water, and yeast, left to ferment and then combined with additional flour, water, and other ingredients. A sponge starter gave our bread a complex flavor that yeast alone could not provide. We soon learned that bread with a high water content produces a chewier texture. So we ended up working with a wet dough, to which we could add more flour if necessary. This wet dough was tricky to work with but resulted in a bread with a texture so rough, chewy, and substantial that it was a meal all by itself. For a finishing touch, we added whole wheat and rye flours to the ingredients to enhance this bread’s full flavor.
Makes 1 large round loaf
Because of its high water content, the bread will be gummy if pulled from the oven too soon. To ensure the bread’s doneness, make sure its internal temperature reads 210 degrees by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf. Also, look at the crust—it should be very dark brown, almost black. Keep in mind that rising times vary depending on kitchen temperature (the times listed below are minimums). You can vary the texture by increasing or decreasing the flour. For bread with a finer crumb and less chewy texture, increase the flour by 1/4 cup increments. For coarser, chewier bread, decrease the flour by the same increments. To develop a crisp crust, you need to bake the bread on tiles or a stone. To vary flavors, add 1 tablespoon minced hearty herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, with the salt or mix in 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans just before kneading ends.