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In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70°F. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran, or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours.
When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. At least a half hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450°F. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Make croutons. Cube leftover bread and place on a sheet pan. Brush cubes with melted butter or olive oil. Bake at 375°F for 5 minutes. Toss cubes. Bake another 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how toasted you want them.
For an extra flavor boost, sprinkle croutons with chopped herbs, minced garlic, chili flakes, or Parmesan cheese before baking.
Elevate a classic: Spread a slice of fresh bread with the very best butter (try Kerrygold or Plugrá for a rich treat) and then sprinkle with Maldon sea salt.
Make a grown-up peanut butter and jelly sandwich with freshly ground natural peanut butter and organic orange marmalade, then pair with Raeburn Chardonnay, from Russian River, California.