Classic White Bread
For the sponge:
- 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 1/4 cups bread flour
For the dough:
- 1 package (about 1 Tbs.) active dry yeast
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. water
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 2 tsp. salt
To make the sponge, in a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flour and stir until blended. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until the sponge rises and crests, 8 to 10 hours. The surface will be bubbly and shiny.
To make the dough, in a bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the water. Add the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. water to the sponge and stir to loosen.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, sponge, yeast and salt. Knead on medium speed for 4 minutes. Increase the speed to high and continue kneading until the dough pulls away easily from the sides of the bowl, but is still soft and a little sticky, about 4 minutes more.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and, using a pastry scraper and floured hands, gently shape and fold the dough, without punching down, until smooth and return to the bowl. Repeat, letting the dough rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 500ºF.
Transfer the dough to a generously floured rectangular baker. Cover with the lid and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Reduce the heat to 450ºF. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking until the crust is browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 15 minutes more.