“Crackling homemade bread makes an average day extraordinary. Enjoy this beautiful crusty bread recipe as is, or stir in a few favourites like cheese, garlic, herbs and dried fruits.” — Megumi Garcia, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Using a rubber spatula, stir in 3-1/2 cups flour and salt to form a soft, sticky dough. Do not knead. Cover and let rise at room temperature 1 hour.
Stir down dough (dough will be sticky). Turn onto a floured surface; with floured hands pat into a 9-in. square. Fold square into thirds, forming a 9x3-in. rectangle. Fold rectangle into thirds, forming a 3-in. square. Place in a large greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch down dough and repeat folding process. Return dough to bowl; refrigerate, covered, overnight.
Grease the bottom of a disposable foil roasting pan with at least 4-in.-high sides; dust pan with cornmeal. Turn dough onto a floured surface. Knead gently 6-8 times; shape into a 6-in. round loaf. Place into prepared pan; dust top with remaining 1 tablespoon flour. Cover pan and let rise at room temperature until dough expands to a 7-1/2-in. loaf, about 1-1/4 hours.
Preheat oven to 500°. Using a sharp knife, make a slash (1/4 in. deep) across top of loaf. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake on lowest oven rack 25 minutes.
Reduce oven setting to 450°. Remove foil; bake bread until deep golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Remove loaf to a wire rack to cool.
For Cheddar Cheese Bread: Prepare dough as directed. After refrigerating dough overnight, knead in 4 ounces diced sharp cheddar cheese before shaping.
For Rustic Cranberry & Orange Bread: Prepare dough as directed. After refrigerating dough overnight, knead in 1 cup dried cranberries and 4 teaspoons grated orange peel before shaping.
For Garlic & Oregano Bread: Prepare dough as directed. After refrigerating dough overnight, microwave 1/2 cup peeled and quartered garlic cloves with 1/4 cup 2% milk on high for 45 seconds. Drain garlic, discarding milk; knead garlic and 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano into dough before shaping.
Test Kitchen Tips
Don't have a foil pan? A Dutch oven works great as well, but it's quite a bit smaller so it's best to halve the recipe.
The key to this loaf's crusty exterior? Steam! Trapping moisture in the pan for the initial cook time and using high heat ensure bread your guests will think came from the local bakery.