Difficulty Rating: Medium (because it takes so long)
This is another recipe Chef Lauren (my daughter) has used with great success! There's nothing like a fresh, warm, loaf of French bread. Everybody in France knows that, that's why many of them buy a fresh loaf daily. Leftover bread? Make it into a bread pudding! This recipe is by Jim Lahey at the Sullivan St. Bakery. Note: before you make this, note how many hours it needs to rise (12-18), so make it the day before you need it!
3 C all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 t instant yeast
1 1/4 t salt
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 C water, and stir until blended; dough
will be shaggy and sticky. ( I really don't know what 'shaggy' dough is, but I assume that's how it looks. Wasn't Shaggy a character on the cartoon, "Scooby-Doo"?) Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, a warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Dough is ready when it's surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, or cornmeal. Put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough it'll be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-8 qt. heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed, it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on rack.