One thing that has surprised me about feeding myself since becoming veganesque is that most breads are not vegan. There is very often a secret low-fat milk or egg ingredient. It is very annoying, but has spurred me on in my baking attempts. Paging through Bittman (yes, him again), I saw an intriguing recipe for "Jim Lahey's No-Work Bread" that involved no kneading, and cooking the bread in a pot in the oven. It turns out that Jim Lahey is something of a guru, churning out remarkable loaves and pizzas from his bakery. I was in good hands.
Jim Lahey's No-Work Bread:
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus additional for dusting
1/2 tsp. yeast
2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups water at 70 degrees (this is colder than you think)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Cornmeal, semolina, wheat bran, or whole-wheat flour, as needed
Any herbs you want (optional)
This works best if you do it late at night to enhance the Christmas-like unveiling of the dough.
Combine the yeast salt, and flour, and mix them together well before adding the water and mixing well with a fork until the dough balls together. You made need an extra tablespoon of water or so, depending on your flour. The dough will be a bit of a shaggy sticky mess [Note: There are, alas, no photos of this stage due to the aforementioned shaggy stickiness], but do not fret. Simply coat the biggest bowl you have with a bit of olive oil and plop the dough inside.
Cover with plastic wrap, or, if you're me, an old Home Depot shopping bag, and set aside, in a happy yeast location, preferably around 70 degrees. Go to bed dreaming of delicious things.
Wake up the next morning, and gaze upon the magic the yeast has wrought. Behold!
Once your dough has bubbled like this, it is ready for the next rise, but there is no need to rush. Your dough is patient and will wait nicely for you to proceed. Keep in mind that the second rise takes about 2 hours, and the cooking and cooling time combined is almost an hour and half when considering the ideal time to continue.
Okay, once you're ready, prepare and liberally flour a work surface. If you are planning on incorporating herbs, sprinkle them on top of the flour. Turn out your dough onto the floured work surface, and coat the top with more flour. Work quickly to fold the dough a couple of times and pinch the bottom shut, making as compact of a ball as possible.
Cover a cotton kitchen towel with a moderate amount of cornmeal, flour, or what have you, and let the dough rise, covered with either more plastic wrap, a bag, or another cotton towel, for 2 hours.
Once 1.5 hours have elapsed, place a large (at least 4-quart capacity, but you can go bigger) pot or dutch oven in a 450 degree oven. Make sure that the pot you choose has a tight-fitting lid. When the 2 hours are up, carefully remove the pot from the oven, and invert the kitchen towel over the pot, thereby depositing your dough inside, seam side up. It's going to make a huge mess of cornmeal/flour/etc. but you'll have plenty of time to clean up while it's cooking.
Spray or sprinkle a tablespoon of water on top of the dough, cover, and return to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes with the lid on, and 15-20 with the lid off. Let the bread rest for 20 minutes before digging in.