Dr. Eichner describes here the recipe that he uses once or twice a week to make bread. This recipe was developed over many years, starting with a variation of Julia Child’s French Bread recipe, and finally combining some ideas from a recipe from the New England Culinary Institute, called Hearth Bread.
Sourdough French Bread
Yields 4 small loaves or 14 rolls
6 cups unbleached organic whole grain white flour, divided
1/2 to 1 cup coarse whole-wheat flour
3 teaspoons salt, divided
2 3/4 cups warm water, divided (at about 100 degrees F)
1 cup Sourdough Starter (see below)
1 teaspoon baker’s yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup cornmeal
Mix a sponge the night before you plant to bake, by combining 3 cups white flour and the whole-wheat flour with 2 teaspoons salt, 2 cups water, and the sourdough starter. Mix. Cover with a towel and let sit for 10 to 18 hours.
The next morning, prepare the final dough by adding another 3 cups of white flour, 3/4 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, and the yeast.
Using a mixer with a dough hook or food processor with a metal blade, mix at low speed for 2 minutes and then at medium speed for 6 minutes. Turn out onto a floured board and knead by hand until the desired consistency is obtained. Add flour as necessary during the mixing. Place the dough into a large bowl that has been coated with olive oil, making sure that the top of the dough is also coated so that it does not become dry. Cover the bowl with a towel, and allow to rise to two or three times the original volume. The speed of the rise can be altered or halted by changing the ambient temperature; the cooler the temperature in the rising area, the slower the rise. The dough can also be placed in the refrigerator to finish rising at a later date.
Punch the dough down briefly. Dump it again onto a floured board. Cut into loaf-sized pieces. You’ll learn to form the loaves or rolls that suit you best. I usually bake two small round loaves and about eight rolls. I place the loaves on an oven sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, cover with a towel, and allow to rise a second time, at least 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slash the top of the loaves with a razor or scalpel blade. Place into the preheated oven. Spray every 2 minutes with water until the bread has baked for 10 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake another 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the sheet, and allow to cool on a rack.