Rustic White Bread in a Cloche

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) warm water, 90°F – 100°F
4 1/2 cups (1 1/4 pounds) plus 1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour,
2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the 4 1/2 cups flour, sea salt, olive oil and sugar. Stir until the flour is just moistened. Knead by hand or in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and silky, about 5 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly and let the dough ferment and rise until doubled in bulk, from 1 1/2 to 3 hours, longer in very cold weather. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Form it into a tight ball by rolling it toward you on a floured surface or Silpat baking mat.

Lightly sprinkle the base (or the bottom of a 3 1/2 quart Dutch oven) with some flour. Place the dough in the center of the base. Cover with the cloche top and let the dough proof and rise until expanded 1 1/2 times in size, from 30 to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, adjust your oven rack so that it is in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 450°F.

Sift more flour on the top of the dough if desired. Using a serrated knife, make three parallel cuts on the surface of the dough. Cover and bake until well risen and golden brown, approximately 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the cover and continue baking, if desired, until the loaf is well browned and the crust thickens.

Carefully remove the loaf from the cloche and set to cool on a wire rack.

Recipe Notes
• For a more uniform shape, allow the dough to rise in a cloth-lined bowl instead of on the base of the cloche: Line a medium-sized bowl with a clean dish towel. Sprinkle it with some flour then place the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof as above. When fully proofed, lightly sprinkle the base with some flour. Place the dough in the center of the platter and proceed with baking.

• If you would like to bake several batches of bread in your cloche, mix the dough in stages staggered approximately 45 minutes apart. While one batch of dough is baking, proof the next loaf. You can proof the loaf in a lightly floured cloth-lined bowl or on a parchment-lined baking sheet. When it is time to bake, turn the dough out onto the heated base. Or slide the dough and parchment paper directly onto the platter when it becomes available. Trim the paper to fit under the cloche. If the cloche and base are still warm, your bread will bake more quickly. Just be careful when handling the cloche if it is very hot.

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