This bread requires special equipment: a 5 to 8 quart pot with lid – Pyrex glass, Le Creuset, cast iron Dutch oven, or ceramic.
Jim Lahey is the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. He made a three-minute video that shows how easy it is to make this bread. You’ll notice that he puts the bread dough on the lid of the Dutch oven, not in the pot itself. My guess is he does that so there’s less risk of burning your wrist by lowering the dough into a burning hot pot. But if your Dutch oven has a handle on the top you won’t be able to do this, you’ll put your dough into the pot, so use caution!
3 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran or cornmeal (for dusting)
Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12-24 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F). This is referred to as the fermentation period.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured work surface, fold in on itself once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes on the work surface.
Generously coat a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal. Next, shape the dough into ball, place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot. Make a couple of slits in the top of the dough. (If you watch this video they instruct you to make a couple of slits in the bread with a very sharp knife—I find the bread dough is too soft to perform this task, so I use a kitchen scissors to snip a couple of slashes on top of the dough.) Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.
Notes and Instructions
There is quite a flexible window of time for the fermentation period. If you think your timing will be such that the bread will be sitting out closer to 24 hours before you are able to bake then I recommend you only use 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. When you use more yeast the dough will be ready for final baking sooner.
This bread can be made one day ahead of time and it will still be fresh and delicious the next day as long as you don’t cut into it. Once cut, wrap loosely and it will keep for a few days. You can also make and freeze up to a week ahead of time.
If you don’t own a Dutch oven or covered pot that would work for this bread, there is a video showing how to make this bread using a simple skillet.
Recipe source: Sullivan Street Bakery