(courtesy of Jennifer Rachel Baumer, home baker in Reno. Makes 1 round loaf)
This is my favorite basic loaf, a quick-and-easy, never-fails bread that can be made in less than 4 hours, tastes great warm from the oven, and makes wonderful sandwiches.
4⅔ cups all-purpose or bread flour, divided
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1¾ cups warm water
1 packet yeast (or 2¼ teaspoons)
In a large bowl, mix together 3⅔ cups of the flour with the sea salt and yeast. Make a well in the middle of flour and add water, gradually stirring flour into well to make a sticky batter. Stir in just enough of the reserved flour to make a shaggy (lumpy yet well-mixed) dough.
Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead gently for 4 to 5 minutes, using reserved flour to keep dough just barely sticky but not clinging to your fingers. Return dough to mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap or tea towel. Let rise in a warm spot. At 4,000 feet and above, the dough should rise in about 1 hour.
Punch dough down to deflate, then turn it out onto floured work surface and gently knead it just enough to shape it into a round loaf. Don’t overwork dough or bread will become tough. Place loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or a sheet that’s lightly greased or lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover with tea towel or, for a slightly chewier crust, enclose it in a large, inflated plastic bag. Allow loaf to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
When dough is almost finished rising, preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Uncover loaf and slash the top several times with a sharp knife. Bake 35 minutes or until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped.