Basic White Bread (Pain Ordinaire)

Adapted from Ultimate Bread.

2 teaspoons yeast
1-1/2 cups water, warm but not hot
3-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle yeast into 1/2 cup of water in a small bowl. Proof for five minutes; stir to dissolve. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour the dissolved yeast. Draw enough of the flour into the yeast to form a soft paste. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it sit for about 20 minutes to create a "sponge." Pour about half of the remaining water in the center of the well and mix in the rest of the flour. Add more water as needed to form a firm, moist dough. Turn out onto floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic -- about 10 minutes or so. Put dish in clean bowl and cover with dish towel; let rise about 2 hours. Punch down; let rest 10 minutes. Shape and place on floured baking sheet or in greased tin; cover with towel again and let proof about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Slash top if desired. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake for 45 minutes (loaf); 25 minutes (rolls); or 20 minutes at 425 and 20 minutes at 400 for a loaf. Turn onto wired rack to cool.

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