It's super easy; it just requires patience.
John begins, as in the picture below, mixing together flour, yeast, water, and salt. The mixture is very, very sticky. Next he covers the bowl with plastic wrap and lets it sit in a warm place for twelve to eighteen hours. This is the part about being patient.
There is NO KNEADING !!! You couldn't if you wanted to; the dough is far too sticky and that's the way it's supposed to be.
Now you may have tried those so called no-knead batter breads in the past and been disappointed -- tasty enough, I always thought, but not like real bread.
This is different. The long slow rise and the cooking method work some sort of magic that produces a crusty exterior and an interior, dare I say it, reminiscent of a French baguette.
The covered bread bakes for 30 minutes in its own little steam bath which is what makes that good crust. Then it bakes 15 minutes uncovered so the loaf will brown.
Full disclosure: In the middle of doing this post, I had to go downstairs and have a slice of this bread, I had made myself so hungry writing about it.
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
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.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.