For more, plus this famous bread recipe, keep reading.This dough is sticky and wet. Don't be alarmed when it sticks to your cutting board or to your fingers; just use as much flour as you need to handle it. At this point, the recipe says to form the bread into a ball, which I found to be a challenge. My dough was so soft and wet that it kind of just flattened out every time I tried to shape it. Don't worry too much about this as it will reshape when you drop it into the pot. You know you're in the clear and you've made something truly magnificent when your entire home begins to smell like fresh, warm, yeasty bread. But just wait, because it gets better. The most thrilling moment arrives when you remove the bread from the oven and it begins to crackle as it cools. You can actually hear the deliciousness of this loaf of homemade bread settling in. Resist the urge to cut into the loaf right away, as it definitely needs a little resting time. I suggest eating this bread as is, because it's truly too delicious to cover with overpowering spreads. A little bit of butter is all you need for a wonderful experience. The crusty exterior complements the chewy, moist center, riddled so perfectly with holes that you'll wonder why you didn't make this sooner.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran, as needed
- In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
- Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
- Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
- At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf.