Making yeast bread for the first time will make you feel like you have magical powers. I’m not even kidding, nothing restores my sense of awe like seeing a gross looking blob of dough turn into this warm, pillowy mass of yum. It requires a little bit of foresight, but is well worth it for the finished product. Plus, you will save a lot of money spent on fancy artisan bread for relatively little hands-on time and effort.
6 cups bread flour (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface *I used AP
1/2 t. instant or active-dry yeast *I used active dry
2 1/2 t. salt
2 2/3 c. cool water
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest 12-18 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty, and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready. * My dough was drier than expected after mixing but I left it alone and it was fine. It also didn’t really darken noticeably. Again, fine.
Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball. *If you haven’t worked with yeast dough before, it’s weird at first, but don’t be too precious about it and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Generously dust a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with enough flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel as it rises; place dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran. Cover with the edges or a second cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. *I didn’t want to dirty my towels so I left the dough on its floured surface, sprinkled the top again, and covered with the plastic wrap I’d used on the bowl, then covered that with a towel.
After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. When the dough has fully risen, carefully remove pot from oven. Remove top towel from dough and slide your hand under the bottom towel; flip the dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough looks unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. *This is the trickiest part for me, especially since I didn’t have the towel underneath to help flip. I basically just picked it up and plopped it over in the pot. So smart to put seam side up since those will form the pretty golden ridges once baked. Even if you feel like you f*cked up this part, you probably didn’t, it’s pretty forgiving when it bakes.
Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 10-15 more minutes, until the crust is a deep chestnut brown. The internal temperature of the bread should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer, if desired. *I’ve never needed to check internally, the time and color have been perfect indicators thus far.
Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. *GOOD LUCK. This is the only step I fail utterly at every time.