You know what makes your whole house/apartment smell like heaven?
Fresh baked bread. You know what is generally a pain to make? Fresh baked bread.
So, why bother? Well, because this version is so easy you can't mess it up. (No, Mike. Not even you.) It requires a total of 5-7 minutes of prep time, and a day of advance thinking.
You will also need a study pot of some kind-- a stock pot, a deep pan, something oven safe up to temperatures of 450. People say dutch ovens work amazingly, but if you're reading this blog and can afford a dutch oven I think you're in the wrong place. I would go with the biggest, heaviest metal pot in your kitchen, provided it fits inside your oven.
You will also need a kitchen towel (yes really), flour, water, salt and yeast.
I claim absolutely no credit for this recipe, which seems to have found a lot of popularity after it was published in the New York Times in 2006... I'll paste below with my notes, and link you to the original story at the end.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I sometimes use 1 cup whole wheat, 2 cups white flour. More than this and the loaf doesn't rise well. You can compensate by adding a bit more yeast but this is a dangerous game for an inexperienced baker! Baking is not cooking. Cooking is an art. Baking is a science. Chemistry, specifically.)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (or a heaping 1/4 tsp of dry active yeast, activated*)
1¼ teaspoons salt
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water (I use 1/8 of a cup of hot water and a bit of sugar to activate the yeast, then use 1 1/2 cups for this part) , and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature. This means don't put it in the fridge. Maybe put it over the dishwasher if you have one, since the gentle warmth helps it rise.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. You can do this. I know you can!
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. This is very important to give the loaf it's amazing all over crustiness. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Seriously, be careful. I grabbed such a 450 degree pot with a bare hand, and it left quite a mark! 450 degrees is much warmer than your flesh would ever like to be. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. In fact, the messier it is, the more likely your guests will gush over it's handmade quality, or it's "rustic" appearance. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
*To activate yeast: turn your sink on as hot as it goes. Let it run to warm up if it isn't hot. Measure out about an 1/8 of a cup of this hot water. Add it to a small bowl with your yeast and a little bit of sugar. Stir, and let stand for at least 5-10 minutes. When your yeast is ready to go, it'll be frothy. Scrape it into your main bowl with a spatula and let those yeasties do their work.
This recipe is so easy, and makes a magnificent 1lb loaf of bread with a great crust. And you can actually find blog posts where a 4-year old makes this (minus the oven part). Here is the NYT article, and here is the little kid.