CLASSIC FRENCH BREAD             (Poppy's recipe via Stanley)

This recipe uses an overnight sponge and needs kneading--

Peter makes this bread on winter weekends in Vermont.  Plans his skiing around stopping by the condo to punch down the bread and get it into the oven.

2 (1/4-oz.) pkgs. active dry yeast (2 tablespoons)
2 1/2 cups warm water (110F, 45C)
7 1/2 to 8 cups all purpose or bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg white blended with

            1 tablespoon water for glaze

In large bowl of electric mixer, dissolve yeast in 2 1/2 cups water.  Add 2 1/2 to 3 cups flour; stir 1 minutes.  Batter will have  consistency of soft pudding.  Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, overnight or at least 8 hours.  The longer the sponge ferments, the better the flavor will be.
Stir in salt and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of remaining flour.  Beat at medium speed with electric mixer 6 minutes or, beat 600 vigorous strokes by hand.  Stir in enough remaining flour to  make a soft dough.  Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Clean and lightly flour bowl.
Knead dough 15 to 20 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Place dough in floured bowl; dust surface lightly with flour.
Cover with a slightly damp towel.  Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until tripled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. 
Grease 2 large baking sheets or 4 French-bread pans.
Punch down dough; knead 2 minutes.  Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
For oblong loaves, divide dough into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on desired thickness of loaves.  On a lightly floured surface, shape each piece into a smooth log, gently tapering ends.
For round loaves, divide dough in half.  Shape each half into a smooth ball. 
Place shaped dough on prepared baking sheets.  Cover with a dry towel.  Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. 
Adjust oven racks to 2 lowest positions.  Place a shallow roasting pan on lowest shelf.  Pour in 2 cups boiling water.
Preheat oven 15 minutes to 425F. (220C). 
Slash tops of oblong loaves with 5 diagonal slashes each. 
Slash tops of each round loaf with 3 horizontal slashes and 3 vertical slashes, in a tic-tac-toe design.
Brush loaves with cold water.  Bake 15 minutes. 
Brush loaves with egg-white glaze.  Bake 10 minutes longer. 
Brush again with egg-white glaze.  Remove roasting pan from oven.  Bake loaves 10 to 15 minutes longer, for a total of 35 to 40 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.  Remove from pans.  Place loaves directly on oven rack; bake 5 minutes longer. 

Cool on racks.  

Yield:  2 to 4 loaves.

This recipe has been kitchen tested.

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