Prep:16 - 22 hours (includes rising), Cook:1:00
Preparation - Challenging but fun
1 1/2 lb. loaf
Long, slow rising and baking in a closed pot give this bread a wonderful taste and crust. If you add less water, makes excellent dough for pizza or pita bread - I have also divided it in 4 or 6 and made rolls (slightly less baking time than bread).
3 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon of instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups water (more liquid dough yields larger airpockets in finished loaf)
Cornmeal, wheat bran or similar for crust (you can also stick with flour)
Large mixing bowl (dough rises), oven-ready kettle with lid.
IN a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, and stir until blended; dough will be very sloppy and sticky - if you want large airpockets in your bread, you'll have to get used to working with it in this 'liquid' state.
COVER bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 or more, at warm room temperature about 70 degrees. You can use the oven if not being used for other tasks.
DOUGH is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface (we use a silicon mat) and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with the plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
USING just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth!) with either flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more of whatever you used on the bottom towel. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for another 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will have doubled in size (mine doesn't quite though), and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
AT least a half-hour before dough is ready, rack in bottom third of oven, heat oven to 450°. 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 carefully, pot is hot as the dickens, turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that's OK. Shake pot once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed, score with blade if you wish. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is very dark brown. Cool on rack.