Good artisan bread is absolutely divine! Crunchy, crispy exterior, soft open crumb inside. It kind of makes me drool. I've been making all sorts of bread for my family for years and never did I imagine that I would be able to make artisan bread in my own oven!
The glory of this bread is just about anyone can make it. The dough is a very wet dough so it's just stirred together a bit, hence the "no-knead" aspect. The magic happens during the long proofing time. With a mere 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, the dough will raise anywhere from about 12 hours up to 18 hours. During this time the dough will develop a wonderful flavor, almost verging on a light sourdough flavor.
Before you endeavor to make this delicious bread, make sure you have a heavy covered pot that is either cast iron (Dutch oven), enamel, ceramic or Pyrex. And that's it! It'll only take a time or two making this bread before you'll be doing it weekly.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp. yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. water
In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water and stir until combined. Dough will be sticky. Cover with plastic wrap or a loose fitting lid and let rise, undisturbed, at least 12 hours, preferable 18 hours at room temperature; about 70 degrees F.
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.
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.
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 20 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
SOURCE: Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery via nytimes.com