THE NIGHT BEFOREThere are people who say that the crust can be even better if you let the loaf rise in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours, but these must be people who never leave home, or who have all kinds of unexplainable space in their refrigerators.
Put about half a cup of warmish water and half a teaspoon of yeast in a bowl, stir it until the yeast dissolves, then mix in just over a cup of flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke little holes in the plastic wrap, and leave it overnight. In the morning the mixture will have grown, and will be soft and insubstantial, like an initial thought.
THE NEXT DAY
Add about 3 cups of flour, a cup and a half of water, another teaspoon of yeast, and two teaspoons of salt, and mix the whole glop together gently with a spoon. When it assumes some sort of form, put the contents of the bowl on a board and knead it. The kneading will be difficult because the dough is wet and sticky, but try to avoid the temptation to add more flour than you need to keep the dough off your hands. The high proportion of water to flour is what will make the crust good later. Then pour some olive oil in a big bowl, flup the dough around in it a little, and cover it again with the plastic wrap with holes in it. Let it rise until you are astounded at how much it has risen (at least 2 hours, maybe 3). Then shape it into your favorite shape loaf and put the loaf on a thin board that has been covered with a generous amount of corn flour (to keep the loaf from sticking to the board). Let it rise again for at least a half hour, longer if you can, and in the meantime put a "pizza stone" in the oven and let it heat up to 500 of those illogical Farenheit degrees. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with whatever you like to see on the tops of loaves, if you are into that sort of thing. Ploop the loaf from the board onto the stone and bake it for about 30 minutes. Take it out, let it cool, and amaze everybody.
There are two reasons that there was no posting over the weekend. One was that the Blogger service was misbehaving, so it was not possible to post anything. Whatever the problem was, it seems to be working fine now. The other was that I was doing some experimenting with bread making. Commercial yeast is a fine and useful thing, but I have found that using just that with bread sometimes gives it an overpowering flavor, and the crust and texture are not as good as the stuff you get from the really good bakeries. What the good bakeries do, of course, is get their yeast from the air, which is easy for them because they have big warm rooms with lots of dough rising. But that is what gives the bread its nice complex flavor, which should not be the least bit chemical. It would probably be possible to cut out using commercial yeast altogether if, say, we had a steambath in our apartment and I had unlimited amounts of time to devote to baking. But I've combined a few recipes to come up with a technique that uses a little instead of a lot of commercial yeast, only takes more time in the sense that you have to remember to spend two minutes setting it up the night before, and produces a loaf of bread that rivals just about anything you can buy. Here is how it looks after a couple of tries: