This bread is very low-maintenance and tastes like it's not! Be sure to use instant yeast, not to be confused with Rapid Rise. I did, and it took me awhile to figure out what I was doing wrong! Although my friend who gave me the recipe always uses Rapid Rise. Not sure why it works for her and not me! It comes out crusty on the outside, spongy in. Delicious with butter, or jam.
3 c. all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 c. water, and stir until blended. Dough will be sticky and shaggy. 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 min.
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. 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 half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450. Put a 6-8 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 it, 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 straighen out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 min., then remove lid and bake another 15-30 min, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. Makes 1 1/2 lb. loaf.