The recipe is a combination of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, which ran in the New York Times a few years ago, and the simple crusty bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day -- a book that you should hunt down if making bread turns out to be your thing. Experiment with different flours, or find something you like and stick with it; the cost, in terms of both time and money, should discourage all fear.
Makes 3 loaves
Ingredient Note: In this version, I used 3 cups white, 3 cups whole wheat, and 1/4 cup each ground flax and wheat germ. My usual recipe is 2 cups white, 2 cups wheat, 1 cup white wheat, 1 cup rye, and 1/4 cup each ground flax and wheat germ; this makes a quite dense and grainy and wholesome loaf. Make it with all white flour, and your kids will fall to their knees in gratitude -- or mine will, if you invite them over.
Pour the water into a large bowl or plastic container--one that you won't miss, since it may be in the fridge for a few days--then sprinkle in the yeast, salt, and vinegar.
Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flours, and mix until there are no dry patches. The dough's texture may seem all wrong: too loose, too shaggy, too sticky. This is fine.
Cover it with plastic wrap or a shower cap and let it rest and rise at a warm room temperature for at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours.
At this point, bake it or refrigerate it for up to two weeks to bake later. To bake it: sprinkle some flour across the surface of the dough and use a knife to cut off a piece that's about a third of it. Refrigerate the remaining dough.
Turn the dough in your hands to stretch its surface, pulling it under to create a taut, rounded top and a gathered-up bottom (imagine that you're giving the dough a firming face lift and tucking all that baggy, extra skin underneath).
Sprinkle a pizza peel or wooden cutting board heavily with flour then lightly with cornmeal, put the loaf on it, sprinkle the top with flour, cover it lightly with a dish towel, and let it rest for 40 minutes (if you're using refrigerated dough, increase this rest time to 1 1/2 hours).
Half an hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450° F, and put a heavy, covered pot inside to heat
When the dough has rested, use a serrated or very sharp knife to slash an X across its top; do this with authority, so that the knife doesn't stick and so that the slashes are a good quarter-inch deep. Now pull the pot out of the oven, remove the lid, put the loaf in X-side up, replace the lid, and pop it into the oven.
Bake the dough for 25 minutes, covered, then remove the cover and bake another 15 minutes
Cool on a rack before slicing.