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 itinto 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 1/2cups water.  Add 2 1/2 to 3 cupsflour; stir 1 minutes.  Batter willhave  consistency of soft pudding. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, overnight or at least 8hours.  The longer the spongeferments, 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 vigorousstrokes by hand.  Stir in enoughremaining flour to  make a softdough.  Turn out dough onto alightly floured surface.  Clean andlightly 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 inbulk, 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 desiredthickness of loaves.  On a lightlyfloured surface, shape each piece into a smooth log, gently tapering ends.
For round loaves, divide dough in half.  Shapeeach half into a smooth ball. 
Place shaped dough on prepared baking sheets. Cover with a dry towel.  Letrise 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 425°F. (220°C). 
Slash tops of oblong loaves with 5 diagonal slashes each. 
Slash tops of each round loaf with 3 horizontal slashes and 3 verticalslashes, 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, oruntil bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.  Remove from pans.  Placeloaves 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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