2 teaspoons table salt, or one tablespoon kosher salt
1 ¼-ounce packet or 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast (also sold as rapid-rise, quick-rising, and bread machine yeast)
2 cups lukewarm water, for the bread
1 cup hot water, for baking
Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and lukewarm water in a mixing bowl. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix at the lowest speed for 1 minute. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for 1 minute, until well blended and smooth. The dough should form a coarse, shaggy ball. Let rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
If using a mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 2 minutes, or knead by hand for 2 minutes, adjusting with flour or water as needed. The dough should be smooth, supple, and tacky, but not sticky.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 1 minute. Transfer to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or up to 4 days.
About 2 hours before you plan to bake, remove dough from the refrigerator and gently transfer to a lightly floured work surface, taking care to de-gas it as little as possible. Divide the dough and, working with one half at a time, gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Bring the four corners together in the center. Squeeze the corners to seal them and tighten the skin of the dough. (This creates surface tension, which allows the loaf to rise up and not just out.) Repeat with remaining dough. Transfer both rounds, seam side down, to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Mist with spray oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until double in bulk.
About 45 minutes before baking, center a rack in the oven and place another rack under it. Place a rimmed baking pan on the lower rack. Preheat the oven to 550° F. If you have a baking stone or pizza stone, preheat that as well. During the last 15 minutes, remove the plastic wrap from the loaves. Score the dough, making 3 (1/2-inch-deep) slashes with a single-edge razor or serrated knife.
If using a baking stone, slide the loaves onto the stone, using the baking sheet as a baker’s “peel.” If you don’t have a baking stone, just place the baking sheet with the loaves on it in the oven. Quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the baking pan on the lower rack to create steam. (You may want to wear long sleeves and to cover the oven window with a towel, to prevent cracking in case of a spatter; remember to remove the towel before you shut the door.) Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is a rich golden brown, and the loaves sound hollow when thumped. Turn off the oven and let the bread sit inside for another 5 minutes before removing. Cool for 45 minutes before slicing or serving.From Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, (Ten Speed, 2009). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.