There is something ultimately comforting about fresh baked bread. This has been my Ultimate Standby recipe for 25 years, and as much as I love finding new, exotic variations, I always return to this. Always.
Serve it with anything and everything, but it is especially perfect with red wine and sharp white cheddar.
In a smallish bowl, combine one cup warm (but not hot) water with one Tablespoon yeast and one Tablespoon sugar (I use turbinado). Whisk together until blended and set aside. The yeast should bloom for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, fork-sift two cups flour (I use unbleached all purpose) with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast water. Blend with a fork or wooden spoon until everything is incorporated. Turn out onto a floured board and knead well, adding more flour as you go. All told, I usually end up incorporating another cup of flour this way. Knead until elastic and smooth. (If you are new to breadmaking, this is when there are no sticky spots or dry spots, but there is a uniform smooth give to the dough.)
Slather (yes, slather) the inside of your baking pan with butter. My favorite is clay, hands-down, but you can use glass or metal just as well. Set the dough ball in the baking dish and cut a large X in the top with a serrated knife, adding a dab of butter in the arms of the cuts. Cover the whole thing with a tea towel and set in a warmish spot for 45 minutes. (Just perfect for watching the latest episode of Downton Abbey.)
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Slather the top with more butter before turning out from the pan.