Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francios plus baking tips from Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan St. Bakery
Husband-Tested in Alice’s Kitchen
Special Equipment: 6-8 quart plastic container with a lid (I use a Sterilite 8 quart plastic container.) If the container is airtight, drill three holes in the lid.); Le Creuset dutch oven with lid (See note*); parchment paper; plastic wrap; olive oil cooking spray; cooling rack
3 cups lukewarm water (about 100°F)
1 ½ Tablespoons yeast (2 packets)
1 ½ Tablespoons Kosher salt
6 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method (plus more for sprinkling on baking day)
Preparing the Dough:
Pour water in the plastic container. Add the yeast and salt to the water. (Don’t worry about getting all to dissolve.) Add all of the flour at once. Mix with a wooden spoon. You can finish mixing with really wet hands to make sure that all the flour is wet. Do not knead. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. (The dough will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.)
Cover with the plastic container lid. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature about 2 hours. Place the risen dough in the refrigerator overnight. The dough may be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks!
On Baking Day:
Sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with flour. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with oil and set aside.
Remove the plastic container from the fridge and take off the lid. Sprinkle the dough with flour. Pull out half the dough with floured hands. (Replace the lid and return the remaining dough to the refrigerator.) Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. (By doing this, you are creating a “gluten cloak.” Visualize a cloak bring pulled around the dough, so that the entire ball is surrounded by a skin.) Resist the temptation to get rid of all the stickiness by adding too much flour. Adding large amounts of flour prevents the bread from achieving a finished crumb with the typical artisanal interior.
Place the shaped dough onto a piece of parchment paper that has been sprinkled with flour. Cover the dough with the oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 40 minutes.
In the meantime, place the Le Creuset dutch oven in the oven (with the lid on) and preheat the oven to 450°F.
Remove the Le Creuset dutch oven from the oven. Take off the lid. Remove the plastic from the top of the dough. Lift the dough by placing your hand underneath the parchment paper. Take it to the Le Creuset dutch oven and plop the dough into the pot top side down. Shake the pot just a bit to even out the dough. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect. It’ll even out as it bakes. Place the lid back onto the Le Creuset dutch oven and then place the pot into the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes. You’ll know when it’s done by tapping on the loaf. It should make deep hollow thumping sound.
Remove the Le Creuset dutch oven from the oven and carefully remove the loaf. Place it on a cooling rack and allow to cool before slicing.
*Note about the pot: To get an enviable, crackling crust, put the dough in a preheated covered pot — a common one, a heavy one, such as a Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot, a heavy ceramic pot or even a cast iron dutch oven. By starting this very wet dough in a hot, covered pot, the crust develops in a moist, enclosed environment. The pot is in effect the oven, and that oven has plenty of steam in it. Once uncovered, a half-hour later, the crust has time to harden and brown, still in the pot, and the bread is done. Fear not. The dough does not stick to the pot any more than it would to a preheated bread stone.