1/2 cup cool water, about 65°F
2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1. The Sponge: Combine all of the sponge ingredients, mixing just till a cohesive dough forms. Allow it to rest, covered, for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature. (I put it in my oven with the light on.) When the sponge is ready, it will be filled with large holes and bubbles.
2. The Dough: Add the water to the sponge, and mix till smooth. Add the flour, yeast and salt, and knead the dough till it’s fairly smooth but not necessarily elastic, about 3 minutes by machine, or 5 minutes by hand. (The gluten will continue to develop as the dough rises, so you don’t want to develop it fully during the kneading process.)
3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. To help develop the gluten and distribute the yeast’s food, turn the dough twice during the rising time: gently fold all four sides into the middle, and turn the dough over.
4. Divide dough in thirds, and roll each third into a 20-inch-long rope. Braid ropes. Set the braid on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until just puffy.
5. Preheat oven to 345°F. Gently brush the braid with the beaten egg white mixture and sprinkle generously with your choice of herbs. Place a pan of water in the bottom of the oven and bake bread for 25 to 35 minutes. If you want a crispy crust spray your loaf with water 2 to 3 times while it cooks. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Once cool, slice and enjoy!
Recipe courtesy of Fake Ginger