How do you make a good artisan loaf?
Here's the recipe I use:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons kosher (not table) salt
½ teaspoon dry yeast (yes, you do need yeast, but no kneading; just dump it in and go!)
1 ½ cups warm water
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast
Then stir in the water until the mixture forms a shaggy but cohesive dough
Don't “overwork” it; it you do, fewer of the soft, fluffy air pockets will form in the final bread product.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit, at room temperature, for 8-24 hours
Dough will bubble up and rise during this initial stage, and that's what you want it to do
After the dough has reached the 8-24 hour aging process, preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Place a Dutch Oven (or any other large baking vessel that has a top for it) and allow the vessel and the top to heat up for 30 minutes
While this heating up takes place, turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Flour your hands well and form the dough into a ball. Divide the ball into 6 equal-sized pieces and gently form into balls.
Cover the dough balls loosely with plastic wrap and let rest
After the 30 minute pre-heating is complete, CAREFULLY remove the Dutch Oven
With floured hands place the dough balls in it
Place the lid on it and bake, covered, for 30 minutes
Remove cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until they're nice and brown
Remove the mini-loaves from the Oven (I use tongs to reach in and grab 'em.)
Allow to cool and then use them for crostini, slider buns or garlic bread. Or, just slather butter on them and eat 'em while still standing at the stove.
NOTES: As you can tell, the initial rise provides a large “window” in which you can begin working up the final product. What I have found is that the longer it is allowed do rise, the more the mini-loaves will start to taste like sour dough bread. Also, after about 2 hours into the initial rise, you can place the covered bowl into the refrigerator and leave it there for up to 3 days. It will continue to rise, but very slowly, and then will collapse, which is OK. If you want to use dough that has been refrigerated, take the dough out about an hour before you want to bake it and let it warm to room temperature.