A couple of years ago, The New York Times created a foodie sensation when they published an article about creating Artisan Bread without kneading.
Since then it has been slightly refined here and there, and this is the version I have found best.
Mix the following into a bowl:
2 1/2 c bread flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1/4 t yeast (yes, just 1/4 teaspoon!)
...so that it looks like this.
Add 1 1/2 c warm water to it and stir. You're going to think this is WAYYY too much water because it will be a gloopy mess that sticks to everything - the bowl, the spoon, you name it.
Cover it in plastic wrap and let it sit for 12-24 hours.
Hey, I didn't say it wasn't going to take some time, just that it wouldn't need kneading. I usually shoot for 18 hours. Keep it in a warm place so the yeast can do its thing until it looks like this:
Here's the part where things get really sticky and gooey. Flour a board thus:
and dump that wet lump of dough onto it. (No pictures here because my hands were full of wet, doughy yecchhh.) Sprinkle some flour on top. Fold the sides over a few times. I generally do it from all four sides. This isn't kneading, it's just knocking a bit of air out of the dough and remixing the stuff so the yeast gets active again.
Put a well-floured, cotton (non-terrycloth) tea towel in a bowl (or just on the counter if you want) and toss the lump o' dough in it.
Drop the corners of the towel over the dough to cover and let it sit for two more hours.
With 30 minutes of rising left, put a covered, enameled cast-iron, dutch oven in a 450 degree oven to heat up. Anything from 3 1/2-quart size on up is fine. I've read the perfect pot is a French-made, Le Creuset, 5 1/2-quart size, but that's like a $225 pot! No thanks. I and my bank account are perfectly satisfied with my $39, 6 1/2-quart one.
Carefully toss the ridiculously sticky blob into the VERY HOT dutch oven, cover, and bake for 30 minutes. Then take the lid off and bake for another 15 - 20 minutes. It will look something like this:
It doesn't stick to the pot at all. Remove it carefully to a cooling rack.
This may be the coolest part of all! LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THE BREAD. IT'S CRACKLING! Because the crust is so hard, it condenses as it cools allowing the molecular structure of the crust to slightly break down.
Let it completely cool before trying to slice it. It's going to be sticky no matter what, but if it's warm the job will be even tougher.
The crust will be difficult to crack, so I recommend using an electric knife or a very good, serrated, bread knife. Also, because of the high water content the crust won't always stay hard so I slightly toast my slices before eating.
I've made lots of bread machine bread before, but it's NOTHING like real, artisan bread. This bread is holey and chewy and "rugged" in both its taste and appearance.
I made some creamy, creole white beans while baking the bread today and ate them together. Talk about good!