Post Edit: Thanks to Shanzanne for pointing out that the name of the bread creator is Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. Forgive the error. I promise to keep making mistakes just as long as you will keep forgiving them.
I am pretty certain at this point that most people have tried the famous no-knead bread. I have and I'm a believer. Sullivan Bakery master Jim Lahey believed that the ancient Romans probably weren't setting a timer for 8 minutes to knead their bread erstwhile eeking out a living and guarding their homes against invading Barbarians. No, more likely than not, they were mixing up some very basic and standard ingredients and leaving the mass to fend for itself for the day. Sullivan mixed up some flour, water, and salt and found that with a very small amount of yeast and an ample amount of time, he could produce some exemplary loaves of bread. The other issue, of course, is capturing the crustiness produced by the blazing hot temperatures of the old wood fired ovens. Lahey found that if you preheat a pot and lid in your oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, you could slip in your dough and produce roughly the same effect. It works. The bread is crusty and full of beautiful holes. It was grand.... Except I have to confess that it really bothered me to have my oven on for 30 minutes with nothing inside of it. It's an apalling waste of energy and money. I started skipping the 30 minute hellfire and began putting my pot in the oven for as long as it took for the oven to preheat to 450 degrees. I felt a little better. But wait; it gets better still. A while back, Lahey found that he could produce the same great results by popping his bread into the cold pot and skipping the preheat all together. The first time I tried it, my bread was stubbornly plastered to the bottom of the pan. The next time, I coated my pot with a slick of vegetable oil and the problem was solved.
Here's what you're going to do. Roughly 24 hours before you want to eat bread, mix up 3 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon yeast (If you're kitchen isn't at least 70 degrees, use 1/2 teaspoon yeast), 1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 and 7/8 cups water. Stir it together just until you have a shaggy mess. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for somewhere between 12 and 18 hours.
Get a little flour on your hands. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for a few seconds until it comes together in a smooth ball. I used to take the smooth ball and put it on a floured dishcloth to let it rise for two additional hours. Now, I oil the bottom of an oven-safe cooking pot and dust it with cornmeal and put the bread in there to rise.Here's a picture of my pot when I used to preheat. You could use a Dutch Oven, or a glass casserole dish. I use my regular old stock pot, but I cover the handles with tinfoil, since the handles aren't ovenproof.
If you're using the shortcut method, you won't have to worry about the preheat. In fact, Jim says you can even skip the second two hour rise. I tried it once, but I had better results with a second rise in the cold pot for two hours. Place the cold pot with your bread inside, covered with a lid, in the oven and turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake an additional 30 minutes. Here's what's waiting for you. Ta-da. You're not supposed to slice into it until it cools. I can never last that long. I bet the ancient Romans didn't resist, either. Sullivan's Homemade Crusty Bread-the shortcut
Cost: less than $1 a loaf
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon yeast (double it if your kitchen is colder than 70 degrees)
1 and 7/8 cup water
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
cornmeal for dusting
Stir together flour, yeast and salt. Add water and stir until shaggy and combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours. Coat hands with flour and shape dough into ball. Place in pot with lid. (I grease the bottom of my pot.) Let rise for two more hours. Place bread in pot, covered with lid, in the oven and turn the oven to 450 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake an additional 30 minutes.
PS Thanks everybody for all of your Tiger Mother input on the last post. I'm still thinking about it and your comments were very insightful.