Easy Artisan Bread

Yields one 2 pound loaf

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little more for dusting

1 cup whole wheat flour, preferably stone-ground

¼ teaspoon active dry or instant yeast

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

herbs, olives, garlic, grated cheese, or other flavorings (optional)

about ½ tablespoon vegetable oil, or non-stick cooking spray

  1. In a large (3-4 quart) bowl, combine flour and yeast. Add water and stir until blended. Dough will be VERY “sticky and shaggy,” only slightly stiffer than thick batter. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes to allow gluten to form.

  2. Stir in the salt and any optional flavorings. (Note how much gluten has formed!)

  3. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at least 12 hours, (overnight) at warm room temperature. Dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles and volume has roughly doubled. Too long a rise is better than too short a rise.

  4. Flour a work surface (more flour is better than less, a large wooden cutting board works much better than a smooth counter) and pour the dough onto it, scraping it out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over onto itself. Repeat two or three times, using more flour for the dough and work surface as needed. (A “bench scraper” helps.)

  5. Cut a square of baking parchment and fold it along the center lines to make creases so that it won't roll up as readily. Wipe parchment with the oil or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Using the bench scraper, transfer the dough round to the center of the parchment, and place in a pie pan. Cover with the inverted bowl, a plastic bag (using the corners of the parchment to keep plastic off the dough), or more plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and allow to rise for about another 2 or 3 hours. When it is ready, the dough will again have doubled in size, more bubbles will show (some may be large), and dough will not spring back when poked with a finger.

  6. At least 30 minutes before dough is ready, turn on oven and set to 450° F. Place a 3- to 4-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron or enameled iron. Supposedly Pyrex® or ceramic will also work) in oven at start of preheating period, with cover on the rack beside the pot.

  7. When dough and oven are ready, carefully remove the hot pot from the oven. Remove plastic or bowl from dough and lift the parchment by its corners to gently transfer the dough to the hot pot. The dough may look like a mess in the pot, but that's OK. Shake pot if needed to even out the dough. Slash the top with a sharp knife if you wish. Cover the hot pot with the hot lid and return the hot pot to the oven.

  8. Bake covered pot for 30 minutes, then remove lid. Bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is “beautifully browned.” Remove the bread from the pot and remove the parchment from the bread.

  9. Cool bread completely on a wire rack before slicing. To soften crunchy crust, store in sealed plastic bag after completely cool. To retain crunchy crust, store in paper or opened plastic bag.

Variations: When folding, add any of the following: 1/4 cup chopped herbs, 1/2 cup diced or grated cheese, two dozen sliced olives, 1/4 cup sun-dried tomato tapenade. Inspired by “No-knead bread”, Breads & Breakfast column, New York Times, November 13, 2006.