I love this bread. I have been making it for a little over a year now and it never fails to delight me. It is so incredibly flavorful from the long rise time and the crust is super crusty while the inside stays light and fluffy. Great with soup, or stew, or pasta... or peanut butter or jam or just by itself... yeah I'd say it is just GREAT. And all you need is flour, yeast, salt, water a dutch oven with a lid... and a little planning.
So a note on timing: Active time for this bread is less than 15 minutes total. Mixing the ingredients takes 5 minutes. First rise takes 18 hours. Turn out for second rise takes 5 minutes. Second rise takes 1-2 hours and baking time is 35-45 minutes. Cool time... if you are better than me, 1 hour or so... (I tend to dive right in when warm bread is involved!). So total time: about 22 hours.... SO if you want this for dinner Sunday night, start the first rise Saturday night. If you are making it on a weeknight, you could start the first rise the night before, and turn the dough out for the second rise as soon as you walk in the door from work -- it could still be ready for dinner 2 hours later... so doable depending how late you eat or early you get home from work.
Here's what you do:
Mix together 3 cups bread flour, 1/4 tsp. dry active yeast, and 1 1/4 tsp. salt in a medium bowl.
Then add 1 1/3 cups (one and one-third cups) of cool water (55 to 65 degrees F).
Mix together with your hands (or a wooden spoon) until you have a wet, sticky dough. It should be really sticky! If it isn't, add a T or two more of water.
Generously dust a work surface (wooden or plastic cutting board) with flour. Using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. The dough will cling to the bowl in long thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be loose and sticky. Don't add more flour! Just use lightly floured hands to lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges to make the dough round.
Turn the dough, seam side down onto a generously dusted cloth napkin or tea towel (cotton or linen). If the top is tacky, dust with flour and fold towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until it is almost doubled. If you poke it with your finger, making an indentation about 1/4 inch deep, it should hold the impression.
A half hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 with rack in the lower third position, and put the covered dutch oven (4 1/2 to 5 1/2 quarts) in the center of the rack to preheat.
Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the towel, dust the surface of the dough with flour or wheat bran, lift up the dough on the towel, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. Be careful!!! Pot is VERY HOT!
Bake for 30 minutes with cover on (here it is after first 30 min:)
Then remove the cover and bake for another 15-30 minutes until bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt.
I often remove it before it reaches the "deep chestnut color" -- sometimes I can find the crust gets too hard. But it is good either way! Use a heatproof spatula to remove the bread from the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.