After posting this recipe, and making the bread at least 3 times a week, I have simplified the rising process, and eliminated the messy parts. The original recipe comes from baker Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery, and has been discussed on Zaar. I have tweaked it a bit, and this is the closest I can come to those French "boules". It is real BREAD bread, not chemical cottonwool. All you need is time. The instructions are terribly long, but once you've read through it, you will see it's only to make the already-easy process still easier. Now you only need hunt up a suitably heavy pot with lid ... This is the best bread I've eaten in years.
UPDATE, 13-8-07: Decided to try and use 4 cups flour to get a fatter loaf. It worked, and with the same smallish pot I got a lovely loaf. This 2nd recipe is tacked on to the instruction list. Good luck!
By the way, if you want wholewheat bread, don't use this recipe. Rather use your bread machine or your normal way of bread-making. This very French-style loaf should be made from white bread flour, and you can add in a little fine rye flour. Sometimes I add 1 cup of "brown bread grain flour" which is very finely stone-milled, and has no large bran flakes. But basically, this is a white bread. Go on, indulge! Slice a piece for yourself when you can handle it and the crust is still crunchy-hard ... Heaven!