This bread has probably impressed more of my friends than the most complicated, intricate dish. And it is so easy. All you need is enough time to let the dough rise.
I found this recipe a few years ago on the NY Times website. I adjusted the recipe slightly to adapt to the size of my Le Creuset 4 1/2 Quart Dutch Oven and the how much bread we wanted. The first few times I made this, I made it pretty much how they instructed: Let rise 12-18 hours, work in a ball on a floured surface, let rest on a plate for 2 hours covered with a towel. But looking at the commentary in the original recipe, you will see statements like “rise time 12-18 hours” and “it might look like a mess, but that’s OK.” I thought to myself, this seems like a pretty forgiving recipe, and I bet I can make this easier.
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a few big pinches for after dough rises
Almost ½ tsp yeast (just fill it almost to the top of the measuring spoon)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cup cool water
Mix ingredients in a large bowl. It will look like you have a shaggy blob. That’s OK. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 12 hours.
This dough does take a long time to rise. But if you need to speed it up some, let it rise in the microwave. Take a mug full of water, and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes. Place covered bowl in microwave with the steamy cup of water and close the door. Yeast rises better in warm humid environments, and you’ve just created a nice steam room for your rising bread. I do this with most recipes that require rising.
After rising, the dough will be more than double original size and very sticky, with lots of yeast bubbles on the top.
Now here’s where I deviate from the original recipe. Instead of letting rise in a bowl, working on a floured surface and flipping onto a plate, I just work everything right in the bowl. Only one bowl to wash instead of three. Perfect! I hate doing dishes.
Take a few big pinches of four and sprinkle on top of dough. Use your fingers to separate sticky dough from sides of bowl, sprinkling some flour on sides and bottom of bowl to prevent dough from sticking back to bowl. Work dough into a ball and put back in floured bowl. Your fingers will have some sticky dough on them, this is normal. Place a towel on top of bowl, and let rise again for another hour or two.
About 20 minutes before cooking, put covered Dutch oven in cold oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Once preheated, take out of oven and carefully flip dough into Dutch oven. Give it a shake to center the dough, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take cover off and cook at additional 15 minutes. Bread will have a beautiful brown crusty finish. Remove from Dutch oven and let cool on wire rack before slicing.