The basic process is simple. To start, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with your hands (or a wooden spoon, if you prefer) until a dough forms. At this point, wash your hands, tear off a piece of plastic wrap, and cover the dough. The dough will sit at room temperature overnight; in a sense, it’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of recipe.
The next day, generously cover your work surface and hands with flour. (This is important because the dough is very sticky.) Punch the risen dough down, and scoop it out onto the floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with flour, and pat it into a large flat disk shape. Fold four edges in toward the center, and flip the dough over so the creased side is now face down. Sprinkle the top with more flour, cover with plastic wrap or a linen, and let the dough rise until nearly doubled in size.
At this point, place your ungreased Dutch oven in the oven, preheat it to 500°, and get your oven mitts ready. Now for the tricky part. As beautiful as this loaf is, there’s no graceful way to get this free-form dough from your work surface into the hot Dutch oven. I’ve found that sliding a flat cookie sheet under half of the dough while using your other hand to hold the other half of the dough is an effective way to transport it to the oven. Before attempting the move, make sure your oven is open and the rack is positioned to allow unhindered access to the Dutch oven. Then, just drop the dough into the pan. If your dough doesn’t quite make it to the bottom of the Dutch oven, use a wooden spoon to nudge it off the sides. Don’t worry—everything will work out. Cover with a lid, close the oven, and let the baking magic begin.
After baking, carefully remove the loaf from the Dutch oven, let your beautiful bread cool on a wire rack, and pat yourself on the back. You’re a baker, with a recipe worthy of being passed down through the generations to come.
- 4½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2¼ cups lukewarm water
- ⅓ cup plain yellow cornmeal, divided
- FIRST In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt, and yeast. Add water. Stir with your hand until a sticky dough forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel; let rise at room temperature overnight or up to 24 hours.
- NEXT On a floured work surface, pat dough into a circular shape. Fold four edges in toward center; turn dough smooth side up. Sprinkle with flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature 2 hours.
- NEXT Place a 4- to 6-quart cast-iron Dutch oven in cold oven. Preheat oven to 500°. Sprinkle top of dough generously with cornmeal. Using a large spatula, flip dough over; sprinkle with remaining cornmeal.
- LAST Place dough in preheated Dutch oven. (Use a wooden spoon to gently push dough into bottom of pan, if necessary.) Cover, and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake 15 to 20 minutes more. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Now that you’ve mastered the base recipe, try one of these variations or create your own!
In the first step, stir together 3 cups all-purpose flour, 11⁄2 cups whole-wheat flour, salt, and yeast. Stir in 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup chopped pecans, and 11⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon; continue as directed.
Multi-Grain Topped Bread
Prepare dough, and let rise as directed. Stir together 3 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon rolled oats, 1 tablespoon dried minced onion, 1 tablespoon wheat bran, 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, 1 teaspoon poppy seeds, 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, and 1 teaspoon flax seed. Sprinkle over bread dough (instead of cornmeal) before baking.
In the first step, stir 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper into flour mixture. Continue as directed. After first 30 minutes of baking, sprinkle bread with 1⁄4 cup grated Gruyère.