If you have been friends with me for a while then most likely, you’ve had some of my bread. This is the classic that I’ve traditionally made for the last 20 years or so. Enjoy.
Makes two large loaves
2 packages of active dry yeast (1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon)
3/4 cup warm water (105 – 115 F)
2 2/3 cups warm water (105 – 115 F)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
3 tablespoons shortening (UK – Stork, Trex, Flora White US – Butter Flavoured Crisco)
8-9 cups unbleached bread flour
6 – tablespoons salted butter – melted
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
Sponge Process (2-6 hours)
Dissolve yeast in 3/4 cup warm water for 5 minutes. Stir in remaining water and ensure that all the yeast is dissolved. Add in 4 cups of flour and mix well. Place mixture in very large nonmetallic bowl (it will grow dramatically). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 2 hours but no more than 6 hours (longer times give better flavor and texture).
Mix and Knead
Add sugar, sea salt, shortening and mix well. Add remaining flour, one cup at a time until dough is easy to handle. Place dough on the a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, add flour as necessary to keep from sticking. Place dough in a greased, nonmetallic bowl; cover and let rise until double in size (about 45-60 minutes).
Punch down dough (push all the air out of it and make it flat). Divide dough in half. Divide each half into 3 equal parts. Braid the 3 parts together. Lightly dust a baking stone with corn meal. Place the two loaves on baking stone, brush with melted butter (sprinkle optional seeds on top), cover with towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 425 F (215C or 200C Fan), position racks so that the bottom of the stone is just below the middle of the oven. On a rack below that, place a baking dish full of water to add moisture to the air in the oven.
Bake for 28 minutes.
Remove from oven, brush with butter again, and serve immediately. I suggest tearing the bread rather than slicing it.