1 (.25 ounce) package instant dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm (non-chlorinated) water
1 pint warm water
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tablespoon melted butter, divided
1 cup whole wheat flour
4-5 cups bread flour (until dough is stiff and workable)
Ground cornmeal for dusting
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water. Let stand about 10 minutes without stirring.
2. In the large bowl of a stand mixer set on low speed, whisk together the warm water, salt, sugar, molasses, fennel seed, and half the melted butter. When blended, mix in the yeast slurry and slowly add the wheat flour until blended.
3. Change the whisk attachment for the bread hook, and work in the bread flour 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and is dense and workable.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for an additional four minutes, adding additional flour as needed. Place dough into a greased bowl, and turn to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour. (Note: I use Alton Brown’s technique of placing the bowl in a cold oven, and pour some hot water into a casserole dish on the rack below the dough to moisturize the oven, keep the rising dough ball from drying out, and developing a pleasantly crusty surface).
5. Remove dough from bowl, punch down with your knuckles and divide into 2 equal balls. Roll between your hands until a firm skin is formed on each ball.
6. Place the balls on cookie sheets dusted with cornmeal, cover with dish towels and let rise 1 ½ hours.
7. Place pizza stones into a cold oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
8. Lightly powder the loaves with flour, and slice three shallow grooves into the crown of each loaf. Carefully slide the loaves onto the pizza stones, and bake 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops are nicely browned, and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
9. Move loaves to cooling racks. Allow to cool ten minutes before slicing.