Step 1In a large mixing bowl, stir together 2 cups of warm water (120 to 130 degrees), the yeast, sugar and 1 cup of the flour. Let sit 15 minutes. (If the yeast doesn't activate, you have to throw this out and start over, though this rarely happens.)
Step 2With a wooden spoon or bread cutter or your hands, mix in the olive oil, wheat germ and 3 cups of flour. Gradually add the salt and more of the flour, letting the dough come together.
Step 3Knead the dough on a floured board or table, adding the rest of the flour as needed; be careful not to get the dough too dry. (If using herbs or other flavorings, knead them in at this point, adding more flour if the dough gets too sticky.) Once the flour is incorporated, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until elastic; test with the "windowpane method" (stretch a piece of dough between your fingers: if it tears easily, it needs more kneading) or by sticking your finger into the dough to see if it bounces back.
Step 4Shape the dough into a round and put it into a bowl coated with about one-half teaspoon of olive oil (coat the dough's surface too). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise, 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, shape it back into a ball, and let it rise for the second fermentation, about one-half hour.
Step 5Punch down the dough again, divide it into two portions, and shape each portion into a batard. Press the dough into a rectangle, roughly 10 inches by 7 inches. With the long side of the rectangle facing toward you, grasp the upper corners of the dough and fold them to meet in the center of the dough, creating a peak at the top. Fold down the peak to the center seam. Press the entire seam to seal it, pushing it away from you. Roll down the top edge of the dough, pushing it down and away from you as you go, until you reach the bottom edge. Press along the length of the seam and roll it forward so that the seam is underneath. Repeat with the second portion of dough. Heat the oven to 475 degrees, with an inverted baking sheet on the middle rack.
Step 6Cover the shaped batards with plastic wrap lightly coated with oil (or vegetable oil spray). Let rise for half an hour on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Dust the loaves with flour and slash with a razor or bread knife. Slide the parchment paper with the batards onto the baking sheet in the oven and spray the sides and bottom of the oven (not the batards) with a mister. Shut the door. Spray again in about 5 minutes. Don't open the door more than you have to.
Step 7Watch the loaves and rotate them once during baking for even coloring. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on a rack.
Each of the following additions is enough to flavor half a recipe of bread. Add the flavoring to the dough while kneading; adjust the flour as needed.
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds and 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
1 clove roasted garlic, cooled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons cured black olives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons currants (substitute melted butter for olive oil)