I never buy artisan bread at the grocery store anymore because what I make with the basic recipe in this book is better and I can make it in the time it takes me to get to our local Safeway and back. The recipe is fun, easy, unfussy and there's not much to keep track of (important when you haven't had a good night's sleep in as long as I haven't).
All you need is unbleached all-purpose flour, kosher salt, yeast and water. The book recommends King Arthur Flour, but I have used store-brand flour many times and can't tell the difference. The book also recommends a special container for the dough, but I use a big Rubbermaid cereal container, and my results have always been fantastic. It's really fun to watch the dough rise, and it makes for a great science experiment to share with your kids:
After it rises for 3 hours, there's no punching it down and letting it rise again or keeping track of doubling or tripling or worrying about proofing or anything else. Once it's risen, you can either grab 1/4 of it and bake a loaf of bread, or you can stick it in the fridge for up to fourteen days. Fourteen days is what the book says the limit is, but personally I don't like to let it go much past seven. I guess I don't like my sourdough quite that sour.
When it's time to bake, you just dust the top of the dough with flour, grab a big hunk of dough, put it on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel to rest for 40 minutes and then, after pre-heating your oven for 20 minutes, bake it on a pizza stone for about 30. What results is this:
A beautiful, wonderful-smelling loaf of fresh artisan bread, ready to devour hot with butter, or with which to make sandwiches later. It costs way less than the $4 loaves at the grocery store and looks really impressive, especially if you hide the book so no one knows that it took you about 5 minutes to whip up.