Two Crusty Round Loaves
I found this recipe on Joy the Baker's website. These are mostly her words with a bit of my changes added in. (She found the recipe from Jaden of Steamy Kitchen)
4 cups bread flour (the higher gluten content is important)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Measure out 1/4 cup of bread flour and reserve a clean counter top. Place the remaining 3 3/4 cup bread flour in the bowl. Measure the salt and place on one side of the flour and add the yeast to the opposite side of the flour. Pour the warm water in the middle and mix until the dough just comes together. Joy suggests using a stand mixer, but I did this by hand and it was totally fine.
When the dough forms a mass, mix it a little harder or knead it a bit for 2 minutes. Dough should clear the sides but may stick to the bottom a bit. If you feel like the dough is too sticky or too dry, feel free to add a touch more water or flour by the tablespoonful. After 2 minutes, let the dough rest for five minutes.
After the five minute rest, mix or knead the dough again for 3 minutes. Place the dough on the counter and, using the 1/4 cup of bread flour we reserved in the beginning, knead the dough more. You may not need to incorporate the entire 1/4 cup. If the dough feels firm and solid enough, just knead for a few minutes and prepare it to rest. You should have a satiny, smooth compact ball.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn the dough over to coat the entire dough lightly in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to rest for 1 1/2 hours. The dough should double in size. Remove from the bowl, punch down and reform into a ball. Return to the bowl, cover and allow to rest for another 30 minutes.
After the second short rest, place the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into 2 pieces. Form each piece into a smooth, round ball, tucking any haggard edges on the underside of the dough. Leave to rest, covered with a damp cloth, on the lightly floured surface for 45 minutes to a hour.
During the last 20 minutes of the resting period, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking rack in the lower third of the oven and leave either a baking stone or an upside down baking sheet in the oven to heat as well. Just before the bread dough is set to go in the oven, slash the top of the loaves with 2 to 4 slashes, using a sharp knife. This will allow the bread to expand in the oven. Remove the super hot baking sheet from the oven. Carefully transfer the dough onto the baking sheets and return to the oven.
This is fun! Just after you put the bread in the oven, take 1/4 cup of water, open the oven door, quickly poor the water onto the hot oven floor and immediately close the oven door. We’re creating steam here people… it’s exciting. Wait 2 minutes and repeat the process.
Bake loaves for 20-25 minutes. They’ll be golden and gorgeous. Remove from the oven and insert a thermometer. The temperature should be between 190 to 210 degrees F. Or if you’re not super high tech like me, you can just decide that they look good. Joy suggests letting the bread cool completely before slicing, but that’s hard. It’s okay if you don’t wait, but if you do let it cool completely I think the outside gets crustier. Enjoy!