I made this bread the other day... It. was. AWESOME! Perfectly crispy on the outside, but chewy and soft with lots of air bubbles on the inside. And it's so easy if you can think ahead enough to get it started the night before. I made mine into bread bowls and served it with cheesy vegetable soup, and even my flock of 19-21 year old young men ate it all with vigor. I'll be making this one again soon for sure!
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I used half wheat flour)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 O.K. 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.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
* I actually baked mine a little differently as I didn't have enough dutch ovens for 8 mini loaves. Here's my method for bread bowls:
1. For 8 bread bowls double the recipe
2. In step 3 above, simply shape the dough into 8 balls and let rise as directed.
3. For step 4, preheat oven and an 11x15 half sheet pan to 500 degrees with pan on lowest oven rack.
4. When oven is hot, take the sheet out of oven and carefully place 4 balls of dough in each corner. Spray liberally with water and immediately place in oven. Spray the tops of the bread twice more after 1 and 2 minutes of baking. Let the loaves bake for about 11 minutes until spotty golden on top, then reduce oven to 400 degrees. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped, or internal temp reads 200 degrees. This will take between 4-10 minutes longer. Repeat steps 4-5 for second sheet pan.
5. Cool on wire rack. To serve; cut off tops and hollow out center. Save the center parts for dipping in your soup, then fill the bowl with soup and enjoy! (you'll probably want to stick with thicker soups as a brothier (thats not a word) soup will disintegrate the bowl too fast.