The Most Perfect Bread

I love making bread. The whole process really appeals to me- from the kneading to the way it makes the house smell as it cozily bakes in the oven. Truth be told though, my favorite part is the kneading. I think most people who've kneaded their own bread know what I mean when I say that this is one of the best ways to get rid of one's frustrations. The more you slap and punch that dough, the better it feels!

Perhaps that's why I have been hesitatnt about trying the very famous 'no- knead bread'. 'There goes my fun', I thought. But let me tell you, the cruel enjoyment I gave up by sacrificing the kneading was more than compensated by the ultimate enjoyment of sinking my teeth into what truly is the most perfect bread. Just look at that crust! Need I say more?

Here's the recipe (again)

No-Knead Bread
Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its 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.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart 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 O.K. 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 a rack.

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