At the end of your 45 minutes, the quick test is to stick your finger about half an inch into the dough and pull it back out: If the dent springs right back to where it was, it needs a little longer; if it comes back about halfway, it’s perfect. (And if it doesn’t come back at all? You could have waited a little long this time, and your bread might be a bit dense or taste yeasty, but bake it anyway: It may also come out great.)
Once your bread is sufficiently proofed, it’s time to bake. This part does involve a very hot, fairly heavy dutch oven, though, so please be careful. These are the exact steps I follow, as I keep an eye out for pets that may be underfoot and other tripping hazards:
Take the dutch oven out of the oven, and place it on a trivet or the stove top (I can’t speak to induction or glass; the grates on a gas cooktop are definitely safe). Take the lid off, and set it on another trivet or burner. (Note: If you have round parchment paper for cake pans, you can use one in the bottom of the dutch oven; the rectangular pieces tend to get stuck in the dough – honestly, though, it’s so hot and the dough will have a flour layer on its surface, this is just to make cleanup a bit easier.)
Tip your proofed dough out onto a floured surface (if you didn’t clean up the counter earlier, very convenient). The top of the dough as it was proofing will now be the bottom as it bakes. It should have a nice domed shape on the counter, but be quick here – it will start to spread fairly quickly.
Grasp the loaf gently, supporting the bottom and sides with splayed fingers, lift it off the counter, and place it in the bottom of the dutch oven. Do not touch any part of the dutch oven with your hands or arms!
Optional: You can use a paring knife or razor to cut a few quick slashes in top of the loaf, but I follow the Forkish method and let it crack naturally.
Replace the lid, remembering it is also very, very hot, and return the dutch oven to your oven.
Let your loaf bake for thirty minutes with the lid on. After thirty minutes, take the lid off (and enjoy the smell) before baking for another fifteen to twenty minutes. I tend to spin the dutch oven after removing the lid, to even up baking on the bottom.
After 45 to 50 minutes, your loaf will be beautiful and crusty brown and the kitchen will smell amazing. Pull it out of the oven and tip the dutch oven gently over a waiting wire rack. (I sometimes have to give the dutch oven a little shake to release the bread.) And here’s the magic that nobody told me about: Fresh bread smells incredible, but it also has a sound. The crackle of cooling bread is amazing. After it’s cooled for a couple of minutes, you can also tip it up and give the base a little tap —there’s a hollow sound you start to recognize in a good loaf, as well.
Let it rest at least thirty minutes before slicing it. And, if you are not going to eat the whole thing that day, I recommend slicing the whole thing and freezing what you won’t eat; fresh bread keeps its flavor really well, and this loaf in particular makes delicious toast.