Dutch Oven Artisan Bread

Dutch Oven Artisan Bread (from Frugal Living NW)

6 cups bread (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

1/2 tsp instant or active-dry yeast

2 1/2 tsp salt

2 2/3 cups cool water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir together until all the ingredients are well mixed; 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. (Start it the afternoon/night before you want to bake it.) When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty, and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready.

Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Dump dough out on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. (It will be very sticky and stringy) Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball.

Generously dust a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with enough flour or cornmeal 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 or cornmeal. Cover with the edges of the towel (or a second towel) and let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.

After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425-450 degrees. Place a 6-8 quart Dutch Oven (or 6-8 quart heavy covered oven-safe pot) 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.

Cover and bake for 40-50 minutes. Uncover and continue baking about 5-10 more minutes, until a deep chestnut brown. (The internal temp of the bread should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer, if you're worried. I didn't bother :)

Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. (till it stops making fabulous crackly sounds) Note: This recipe makes a HUGE loaf. We're lucky we had missionaries over! Next time I think I would half the recipe, it's best eaten on the first day. Warm leftovers in the oven or microwave for a bit to soften it up a little.