Makes two 14-ounce loaves
Bread don’t get more basic than this. The easiest way to make it is in a food processor with a 2-quart capacity. If you have a smaller workbowl, halve dough recipe, or make it in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment.
1 package dry-active yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water
4 cups bread or all-purpose unbleached flour (I like a combination of 2 1/2 cups bread flour and 1 1/2 cups wheat, as well)
1-2 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or semolina for coating the baking pan
Sprinkle yeast over warm water let stand until yeast dissolves and starts to swell, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix flour and salt in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pour yeast and water mixture into dry ingredients. Process this mixture until it forms a rough ball. (Add a tablespoon or so of flour if the dough is excessively wet and sticky. Add a tablespoon or so of water if dough feels hard and dry.)
Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand for a few seconds to ensure that the dough is satiny and smooth. Form dough into a ball and put it in a large bowl that’s been coated with vegetable oil spray or a very light film of oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until the dough doubles, anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 hours depending on room temperature. (This is where you get to take a nap, read a book, or watch TV!)
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured work surface. If you are making loaves, halve dough and shape into rounds or baguettes. If you’re making rolls, divide the dough into 12 pieces and shape each one.
Transfer shaped dough, seam side down, to a cornmeal-coated baking sheet (I don’t have a fancy pizza stone, and I think the sheet pan works fine.) Cover shapes with a barely damp kitchen towel and let the dough shapes rise until almost doubled in size, another 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
When ready to bake, move a rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Make a few long, deep (about a 1/2 inch) slashes on your loaves, or one big one on each roll.
As you slide the pan into the oven (carefully!) toss about 3/4 cup water onto oven floor and quickly close oven door. Bake until crust is brown and crispy, about 25-30 minutes. Cool bread on a wire rack.
(Can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for a few days. Wrapped loaves can be placed in a zipper-lock bag and frozen up to 1 month.)