This delicious bread has just four basic ingredients: Flour, water, salt and yeast. No sugar or added fats. Plus, there is NO KNEADING! None! Time does all the work in creating the gluten that gives bread its unique structure.
In a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl, (NOT metal) combine:
3 cups all purpose flour or bread flour
1 1/2 - 2 1/2 teaspoons salt (depends on your taste)
1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast
Mix well to combine dry ingredients
1 1/2 cups water
Mix well with a spoon. No need to beat this , just get all the flour absorbed - you might need a little extra water if it's very dry where you are. Make sure you purchase instant yeast such as Rapid Rise from Fleischmann's or Quick Rise from Red Star. You only need 1/4 teaspoon, not the whole package.
Cover your dough (it will not be very pretty) with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. I find the microwave oven (off, of course) makes an excellent resting place. I usually make this in the evening so I can bake bread the next evening. Or do it in the morning and bake the next morning. Once your dough has rested for 12 hours, it should be very bubbly and doubled in size. You can choose to stir the dough down and have it rise again if you need to delay the baking process, up to 24 hours or more, especially if you like more of a sourdough taste. I find that if you make the dough in the evening, stirring it down in the morning and then letting it rise again during the day gives excellent results.
This part can be a little sticky and tricky, so be patient. Your dough should be well risen after the 19-24 hour rest period. Sprinkle some flour over the top and start scooping the dough together - use more flour if you need to. This is the time to add in any extras you might like - rosemary, basil, dill, cheese, olives, etc.
Place the dough on a well-floured piece of parchment paper. It MUST be WELL floured, or the dough will stick. Now, simply fold the dough from the sides, and then the top and bottom, like you were folding all four sides to the center, and flip it over. Roll up the top of the parchment paper so the dough has a little covering, like a tent. Parchment paper should be available in any grocery store - you can also use waxed paper.
Perhaps the second most crucial part of this recipe (after the long rise period) is the selection of a baking dish. You need to essentially create "an oven within an oven" which will produce the steam you need to achieve the wonderful crust. Selecting a proper baking pan means finding a round baking dish that can handle lots of heat and has a lid. A cast iron or enameled pot is perfect. I used stainless steel and it worked great! About 1/2 hour before baking, place your baking dish as selected above in a cold oven to pre-heat. You should not need to grease the pan, but you can if you choose to. When the oven has reached that temperature, open the oven door and pull out the rack (wearing oven mitts) with your preheated pan. Take the dough in the parchment paper and "plop" it into the pan - PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL AS THE OVEN AND THE PAN ARE VERY HOT!!! It does not need to be all nice and perfect - this is a rustic loaf. Carefully place the lid on the pot and slide slowly back into the oven. Close the oven door and set the timer for 30 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR TO PEEK!
After 30 minutes, open the oven and CAREFULLY remove the pot lid, wearing your oven mitts. Set the lid aside to cool. Close the oven door and set your timer for 20 minutes - oven temperature stays the same at 475 degrees. After 20 minutes, check the loaf to see if it has sufficiently browned. If not, let it bake an additional 5-7 minutes. Now, the moment! Carefully remove the baking bowl from the oven. Flip the bread out of the baking dish and carefully place the bread on a cooling rack. If all went right, you should have a beautiful rustic loaf that will SING to you - as the bread cools, you will hear crackling noises which indicate your crust is perfect! See what a nice finish the dusting flour gives?