This is a fairly recent addition to the repertoire. I first learned it (as most of us did) from Mark Bittman in his column in the New York Times. It was created by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. When Mark’s article appeared –the day after Election Day in 2006—it was the most e-mailed recipe for a week. I imagined that all good citizens (at least New York Times readers) were ready to retreat from the news of the day, and watch their breads slowly rise.
I actually had intermittent luck with the original recipe. It worked splendidly when I made many loaves at my sister’s house deep in the north woods with a wood fire keeping us all warm and cozy, but my own home, which is not so warm rarely provides the right environment—and though the bread was always delicious—the process was always stickier and messier than I would want.
But, this year, Cook’s Illustrated printed a variation that seemed to solve those problems. Here’s my variation of their variation:
Mix together: 3 cups flour, ¼ tsp. dry yeast, and 1 tbsp. salt. Add 1 cup water, 1/3 cup beer (there is of course internet discussion about best kinds—I couldn’t tell the difference—so would say anything goes), and 1 tbsp. white vinegar. Stir until just combined.
Put in a buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise from 12 to 14 hours. I usually go with about twenty hours—but again, variations are possible.
Put on a lightly floured surface and knead 15-20 strokes. Shape into a ball. Cover again with oiled plastic wrap, and place one piece of parchment paper, if you have it. Let rise another two hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees—when it’s hot put in the Dutch oven with cover in which you’ll bake the bread. Leave it in oven for one half hour. I use my big black cast iron pot—a smaller one would give a higher bread, which I think I’d prefer. Again, you can experiment.
Remove the pot and lower oven temperature to 425 degrees. Score and lightly flour surface of bread. Pick up the bread (on its parchment paper) and place it into the Dutch oven. Bake for 30 minutes with cover on and an additional 20-30 minutes uncovered.
It should be wonderfully brown and crusty. Remove from oven and let at least an hour. Whatever you think about the pleasures of just baked bread, I promise you, it’s best if you wait a bit.