About this recipe:This crusty bread gets its flavour and chewy texture from a long, slow fermentation. It is baked in a cast-iron pot in a very hot oven. It looks just like a loaf you'd get from an artisan bakery. The herbs are optional but work really well in this bread.
375g plain flour
1 teaspoon dried active yeast
2 teaspoons salt
400ml warm water (about 45 degrees C)
1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme
1 teaspoon freshly chopped sage
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Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the water and herbs, if using, and mix well. The dough will be very sticky looking. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours.
Generously flour a work surface. The dough will have risen and will be covered in bubbles. Transfer the dough to the work surface and dust it with flour. Fold the dough in half; then form the dough into a ball by stretching and tucking the edges of the dough underneath the ball.
Liberally flour a clean, linen drying cloth. Place the dough ball on the floured cloth. Cover with another floured cloth. Let the dough rise for about two hours [see footnote].
Preheat an oven to 230 C / Gas 8. Place a heavy casserole dish or cast-iron pot (with lid) into the oven to preheat.
Carefully remove the hot baking dish from the oven. Remove the lid and gently turn the dough ball into the ungreased baking dish, seam-side up; shake the dish so the dough is more evenly distributed.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake until the crust is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the loaf from the baking dish and let it cool on a rack before slicing.
To ensure the dough is fully risen and ready for the oven, try this test: flour your index and middle fingers and poke the side of your loaf about 1cm deep. If the indentations spring back, the dough still needs more time to rise. When the indentations stay put, the loaf is ready to bake.