The directions could not have been clearer: Mix together flour, leavening, and clean sea water (specifically, so you wouldn't need to purchase salt, which government taxes made prohibitively expensive). Knead the dough first thing in the morning, before anyone else is up, then put it to rise in a bed still warm from the bodies of those who 've slept therein. But don't worry-the sheets will have been rinsed in water perflimed with bay leaves, which will give the bread a special flavor. when the dough has risen a couple of hours, shape it into loaves, stamp them with an identifying mark, and give them to the baker's boy along with a pan of focaccia and a tiella with potatoes, rice, and mussels. The whole to cook together all morning in the baker's oven, and as soon as the youngest son comes home from school he's sent on the run to the baker's to bring back the family lunch. That's the way bread used to be made in Bari's old town years ago when sea water was still clean, rinse water was scented with laurel, housewives stayed home to bake bread, and schoolboys (and girls) came home for lunch. If you have a source of clean sea water, by all means use it for the salted water in this recipe.
2 cups water, preferably unchlorinated (i.e., pure spring water)
6 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dry yeast
5 or 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Small saucepan, mixing bowl.
IN a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add the bay leaves, and set aside in a warm place to steep for about 30 minutes. Heat the remaining cup of water in another saucepan, add salt, and stir over heat until the salt has dissolved completely. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.
REMOVE the bay leaves from the water and discard them. Sprinkle yeast over the water and set aside for about 5 minutes to let the yeast dissolve.
P0UR 4 cups of flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the water with the dissolved yeast. Start mixing it into the flour, using a wooden spoon or your hands to pull the flour gradually into the well of liquid in the middle. Once the dissolved yeast is incorporated with flour, add the salty water, and continue pulling flour into it. When the flour and liquid are thoroughly combined, spread a cup of flour on a bread board and turn the dough out onto the board. Knead thoroughly for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough has lost its stickiness and become soft and pliable. Add more flour as you knead, if it seems necessary. When the dough is ready, form it into a large oblong and set it on a board or baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Using a knife, or a baker's razor if you have one, make a cut the length of the loaf and about 1/2 inch deep. Cover lightly with a damp towel and set aside to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1'/2 hours. The two sides of the cut will be fully opened.
NOW cut the dough, across the first cut, into 2 pieces. On a lightly floured board work each piece rapidly into a long rectangle, then fold one end of the rectangle lightly over the other. Cover with a dry cloth and let rise about 2 hours.
AFTER the first hour and 15 minutes of rising, start to preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. and continue heating it for at least 45 minutes. Place the loaves in the preheated oven, either on a baking sheet or casting them directly onto a stone. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees F. and continue baking another 45 minutes.
REMOVE the loaves from the oven and let cool on a rack.