This is the simplest of all the breads. You can start a batch first thing in the morning, and with very little effort, have a couple loaves ready for the dinner table. For most of the day it lazily lounges about the kitchen developing flavor while you’re off toiling. This forgiving dough can even be tucked away in the fridge for up to a day. If you keep a levain or sourdough starter, add a bit for rounder, more complex flavor. If not, no worries. This bread develops slowly and has time to come into its own.
First thing in the morning, mix the flour, 250 grams of water, and yeast in a medium bowl. Using your hands, gently mix it around until you don’t feel any dry flour clinging to the bowl. Flours vary in how much hydration they can handle. This dough is best when made pretty wet and supple. You want it to be somewhere between a batter and a loose dough. If it’s stiff at all, add another 50 grams of water. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature for 15-30 minutes.
After the dough has rested, add the salt and mix around with your hands again until it’s well incorporated. Let rest for another 15-30 minutes.
For the next hour or so, you’re going to stretch and fold the dough every so often to help give it structure and develop the gluten. I usually do this every 30 minutes for up to two hours, but if you have to get somewhere, don’t fret over it. Every 30 minutes, moisten your hands with a little water and loosen the dough from the sides of the bowl by reaching a hand under the mass of dough and stretching it up to fold over itself. Turn the bowl a bit and do it again about 8 times until you’ve gone all the way around the bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest. After you’ve done this about 3 times with 20-30 minute rests in between, cover with a towel and let it rest at room temperature for 6-8 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450°F. Using two 9-inch cake pans or pie plates, divide the olive oil to coat the bottom of each pan. It will be more than you use to grease a pan, and will pool up a bit and smell for a moment like the Italian countryside. Take a pinch of flake salt and sprinkle it on the bottom.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and cut into two equal portions. Gently shape each portion into a round by folding in the corners and lightly pressing out in the bulging parts. Plop each round of dough, fold side up, into a prepared pan. This will coat the top with olive oil. Turn the dough over and press gently from the middle to the edges to reshape. It’s okay if the dough doesn’t come all the way to the edges. Sprinkle a little more flake salt on top. If you want another garnish, try chopped rosemary or Parmesan or garlic or any combination that suits you. Let rest for about 15 minutes in the pans before baking.
Bake at 450°F for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown and the edges are sizzling with olive oil. Cool for about an hour before slicing if you can help it. These will stay fresh at room temperature for a day or two. They also freeze wonderfully. Simply let them thaw and crisp them up in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes. Savor with delight and gratitude.