4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
Scant 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
Cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran for dusting
How to Make It
Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add 2 cups water (it should be about 70°F) and stir until blended. You’ll have a shaggy, sticky dough; add a little more water if it seems dry. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for about 18 hours at room temperature (a couple of hours less if your kitchen is warmer; a couple more if it’s cool). The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
Lightly flour a work surface, transfer the dough to it, and fold it once or twice; it will be soft but not terribly sticky once dusted with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.
Using just enough additional flour to keep the dough from sticking, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton (not terry cloth) kitchen towel with cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran (or use a silicone baking mat); put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel (or plastic wrap) and let rise for about 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will be more than doubled in size and won’t spring back readily when poked with your finger.
At least a half hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450°F. Put a 3- to 4-quart covered pot (with the cover) — it may be cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic — in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. (See illustration, next page: Slide your hand under the towel and just turn the dough over into the pot; it’s messy, and it probably won’t fall in artfully, but it will straighten out as it bakes.) Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned; the bread’s internal temperature should be 200°F or more. (If at any point the dough starts to smell scorched, lower the heat a bit.) Remove the bread with a spatula or tongs and cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Faster No-Knead Bread: Reduce the initial rise to 8 hours; skip the 15-minute resting period in Step 2 and then shape the dough in Step 3. Proceed immediately to Step 4.
Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread: Substitute whole wheat flour for up to 2 cups of the all-purpose flour. You won’t get quite as much rise, and the bread will be slightly denser but full flavored.
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