In a large mixing bowl or bin or bucket whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add in the water and mix to combine (you can do this with a wooden spoon, a danish dough whisk, or your hands). The dough should be VERY wet and sticky--if it isn't, add more warm water a little at a time. Loosely cover the dough with a clean towel, plastic wrap, or loosely with a lid (don't fasten the lid if you do use one).
Now it's time for the first, long proof. My kitchen tends to be chilly, so I like to preheat my oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off. Then I place my bowl on top of the oven and let it proof for 12 - 18 hours. If you have the time, 18 hours is preferred. Your dough will have doubled in size.
Generously flour a surface or mat and gently transfer the dough to the mat. You'll see long strands in the dough--this is the naturally formed gluten! Using a bench scraper or your hands, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center, making a round. The dough will be very soft and sticky--don't add more flour. Line a large mixing bowl with parchment paper and flour it. Gently place your dough round in the center and lightly flour the top. Fold the parchment paper ends over the dough (protecting it) and drape a clean dish towel over the top of the bowl. Let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 2 hours. 90 minutes later, place a 4 - 5 qt oven-safe covered pot or dutch oven in the cold oven and preheat to 475 degrees. Allow the pot with cover to preheat in the oven for the remaining 30 minutes of the rise.
Carefully remove the pot and cover from the oven, and put the parchment paper with the dough into the pot. Cover the pot and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for another 15 - 20 minutes until the bread is a beautiful golden brown. Once done, carefully remove the loaf and allow to cool completely (at least an hour) on a wire rack prior to cutting. That's it! The easiest, most delicious homemade bread ever.
Adapted from Jim Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery
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