I can't believe I haven't posted about this recipe yet - I just double and triple checked - I have to apologize from keeping you all from this recipe - it's AMAZING.
If you really want to impress - make this - people will think you spent years working in a bakery - and it'll be our little secret that this recipe is probably the least labor intensive bread I've ever made (and that is saying something!)
The first time I made it - it turned out just like it did today - you can't go wrong with this one - whether it's your first time or your 100th!
I found this recipe 3 or 4 years ago and I make it all the time. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that it needs to rise overnight - so PLAN AHEAD:)
3 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t instant yeast
1 1/4 t salt
1 + 1/2 + 2T warm water
In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Then add the water and stir until blended. Dough will be sticky and shaggy looking. (See? That will only take you 4 minutes) Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 18 hours at room temperature. *You'll know when the dough is ready - the surface will be dotted with bubbles.
Lightly flour your work surface and place dough on it (I just flip the bowl over and it all slides out). Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a COTTON TOWEL (not terry cloth) with cornmeal. place the dough 'ball' seam side down on the cornmeal then cover with another cotton towel and let rise an additional 2 hours.
Half an hour before the dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6 - 8 qt. heavy covered pot (I use my cast iron pot) in the oven as it heats up.
When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid. Take the top towel off of the dough - slide your hand under the other towel and turn the dough over into the pot. It might look like a mess - don't worry.
Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. Then remove lid and bake another 5 - 10 minutes until the loaf is beautifully browned.
When it's ready - plop that baby on a rack to cool and be careful not to go to far away - or it'll disappear!
*I usually make these loaves 2 at a time. The first one out of the oven is gone lickity split! I use the second one to give to a neighbor or use for sandwiches or baked fondue - mmmmm...