Justin found this recipe years ago in the New York Times. It's probably my all time favorite recipe find. The bread is easy to make, incredibly delicious, and always impressive.
Don't be discouraged by the sticky dough - it may look like it won't work, but it does - and it's worth it!
Fermented european bread
3 c flour
1/4 t instant yeast
1 t salt
cornmeal or wheatbran
1. Combine flour, yeast, salt. Add 1 5/8 c water, stir until blended. Dough will be sticky (you may need to add a little extra flour – it should just form a soft ball). Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise 12-18 hrs at room temp (if you need it faster, double the yeast – I’ve made is with a 6 hour rising time).
2. When surface is dotted with bubbles, dough is ready. Flour your work surface. Put dough on it. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough and fold it over itself once or twice. The dough will be very sticky and you will wonder how it will ever form into a loaf – have faith.
3. Gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball using lots of flour and a flour covered spatula if necessary to fold the loaf a few times. Coat a cotton towel 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 30-60 minutes. When ready, dough will be double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with finger.
4. Heat oven to 450 1/2 hr before backing. Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, pyrex or ceramic, corning) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn dough over into pot. It may look like a mess but that's ok. Gently shake pan once or twice if dough is uneven. It will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 min. then remove lid and bake another 15-30 until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on rack.
Sour dough option – add ½ cup of sour dough starter and decrease water to 1 ½ cups. You may need a little extra flour.
Makes one 1.5 lb loaf