Cold winter weekends are the perfect excuse to cozy up inside with a baking project. This one will make your kitchen smell like heaven: a country-style loaf of bread baked in a stoneware cloche, with a golden brown crust and a tender crumb. The time-tested recipe comes from our founder, Chuck Williams, who fell in love with the rustic country loaves he first tried in France and Italy. The secret is in the cloche: it duplicates the even, intense heat produced by a brick-lined oven.
Crusty Country Loaf
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water (110°F), plus more as needed
5 cups (1 lb. 9 oz.) country French, rustic wheat or all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 Tbs. salt
Cornmeal for sprinkling
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand until bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the 5 cups flour and the salt and beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the yeast mixture and the remaining 1 1/2 cups water and beat until thoroughly combined, 6 to 8 minutes, adding more water or flour if needed. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until soft, silky and elastic.
Spray the inside of the mixer bowl with nonstick cooking spray and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Punch down the dough and transfer to a work surface. Knead the dough a few times. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then shape into a ball.
Sprinkle the base of a round bread cloche with cornmeal and place the ball of dough in the center. Cover with the lid and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
Preheat an oven to 450°F.
Using a sharp knife, cut several slashes on top of the loaf. Cover the cloche, transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F and continue baking until the bread is crusty, golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, 30 to 40 minutes more, removing the lid during the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and serve while still warm. Makes 1 loaf.