This is one of the simplest yeast bread recipes there is! I used to make French bread during my early post-college days, but Peter Reinhart's technique takes it to an entirely new level. As you can see, I'm still having fun with the Peter Reinhart cookbooks that I got for Christmas! I would highly recommend that you read his book, as this post doesn't contain his detailed instructions and helpful tips. I'm still perfecting my technique....
Source: Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day
Makes 2 large loaves, 4 small loaves, or many rolls
24 oz. unbleached bread flour*
2 t. salt or 1 T. coarse kosher salt
2 1/4 t. instant yeast
2 c. lukewarm water (about 95 degrees)
The day before baking:
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use a large spoon and stir for 1 minute, until well blended and smooth. If the spoon gets too doughy, dip in in a bowl of warm water. The dough should form a coarse shaggy ball. Let it rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 2 minutes, adjusting with flour or water as needed. The dough should be smooth, supple, and tacky but not sticky.
Knead the dough for about 1 minute more, then transfer it to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then immediately refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days.
On baking day:
Remove dough from refrigerator about 2 hours before you plan to bake. Gently transfer it to a lightly floured work surface, taking care to degas it as little as possible. Form the dough into 2 loaves or into 4 small loaves. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and proof at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours, until increased to 1 1/2 times its original size.
About 45 minutes before baking, place a rimmed baking sheet on lowest rack, place baking stone on rack in middle of oven and preheat the oven as high as it will go.
Remove the plastic wrap from the dough 15 minutes prior to baking. Transfer dough onto a floured peel or the back of a cookie sheet.
Just prior to baking, score the dough 1/2" deep with a serrated knife. Transfer the dough to the oven, pour 1 c. hot water (Be careful!! I use a watering can with a long, narrow spout) into the steam pan, then lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees.
Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the loaf and bake for another 8-10 minutes, until the crust is a rich golden brown, the loaves sound hollow when thumped, and the internal temperature is about 200 degrees in the center. For a crisper crust, turn off the oven an leave the bread in for another 5 minutes before removing.
Cool the bread on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing or serving.
*Note: I like to use King Arthur flour because it comes from non-GMO wheat.