Although I love the new generation of artisan bakers and the beautiful breads they are creating, my eyes still glaze over when I read the recipes. The numbers, gram scales, thermometers, and spreadsheets seem to me to belong more in the laboratory, or the boardroom, than the kitchen. Since I usually go to the kitchen to avoid those places, I offer 2-1 bread as a KISS-principle artisan bread.
First make the levain:
Starter, any reasonable amount from 2 Tbsp – ½ C
½ C water
1 C high extraction flour
Mix it together with a spoon or your fingers, cover, and let sit on the counter for 4-8 hours
Now make your final dough:
1 tsp salt
1 C water
2 C high extraction flour
If you put all your starter into the levain, make sure to remove a small portion of the levain to be your starter for next time, before adding the salt. I usually put all my starter into the levain, remove ¼ C when I'm ready to make the dough, feed it once more, and wrap in a towel and stick it back in the fridge. If the starter has not been used or fed in a couple of weeks, I like to feed it once before using. Starter can be fed in the same ratio as this dough, 2-1, or you can make it stiffer if you like to store it wrapped in a towel.
Mix the final dough with a spoon or your fingers, and let sit covered on the counter for a couple of hours. Every 30 minutes, with a wet hand, gather, stretch, and fold the dough a couple of times. If the dough is real sticky and makes a mess, don't worry. Scrape down your hands and move on. By the third or fourth stretching, it will be more manageable. At this point, cover the bowl and put in the fridge overnight.
The next day, pull the bowl out of the fridge and shape your loaf. You may want to let the dough come to room temperature first, although this will make it stickier. Dust down the counter and have your proofing container ready. This could be a cane banneton, well-covered in flour, or any handy bowl lined with a well-floured dish towel. Stretch and fold the dough a few more times, and keep it moving in order to avoid sticking. It's a good idea to have a dough knife or butter knife handy if you need to scrape it off the counter. You're trying to make a smooth-surfaced ball of dough with all of the seams on one side. Before you over-do or over-think it, pick up the dough ball and dump it into the proofing container, seam-side up.
Let rise for about 90 minutes. It sometimes help to do a finger test every 30 minutes or so. Gently poke the dough and see if the depression springs back. When the depression you make with your finger no longer rises up, the dough is ready for the oven.
Preheat the oven as high as it goes, ideally 550 degrees, and heat up your baking dish at the same time. This could be a covered casserole dish, a dutch oven, earthenware pot, corning ware, or a cast iron frying pan. It's best if you have a cover, but not essential.
Pull the piping hot container out of the oven and gently tip the proofed dough into it. The dough almost never lands where you want it—don't fret. Use the sharpest knife in the kitchen to score the loaf a few times, put the cover on (if you have it), and put the whole thing into the oven. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Take the cover off after 20 minutes and bake for at least another 20-25 minutes. Don't be afraid to bake it to a golden brown. Pull it out of the oven, put on a cooling rack, and see how long you can wait before tearing into it. It's best to wait an hour, but no worries if you cut in sooner. Enjoy!