Jim Lahey is a genius! I have been baking bread for 20 years and never has the whole process been so effortless and completely foolproof. I grew up with the typical European rye breads and have been trying to simulate that layered dark brown crisp crust and moist chewy crumb. There are some recipes out there that achieve that, but require so much work and only work most of the time. Jim Lahey's recipes work every time and produce bread that is comparable to the best breads in central Europe. Especially that Irish Brown Bread is absolutely heavenly! I own so many books on baking, but this book was well worth the $.
26/4/2010 - I had to add this: I have been baking this bread twice a week and use the following tips which I found in Jim Lahey's book review in Seattle Times, All you can eat section (including step by step pictures): I use my Kitchenaid mixer to mix the ingredients (why mess up my hands if I don't have to - results in 1 hook to handwash and I throw the bowl into the dishwasher). On second day, I form the bread on a large wooden board adding a little flour (literally, it takes 2 minutes) and then I place the formed loaf on a large piece of parchment paper placed over a 12 inch frying pan (that way I don't need to worry about the loaf spreading out too much - the dough is kinda wet) and cover it with a dry towel. I let it rise for about 1.5 hours. I preheat the oven and the cast iron pot to 500 degrees F. I lift the loaf out of the pan by picking up edges of the parchment paper and place the whole thing into the preheated pot, cover it with the lid and in it goes in the oven. If you want, you can double the recipe (I do - the bread goes way too fast to have to bake it again next day and it does keep well) and bake the entire large loaf. In that case keep the oven temperature at 500 degrees x 15 minutes, then lower to 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes. If the crust looks too dark during the last 30 minutes, brush it with salty water lightly once or twice while baking and then once you place it to a rack to cool off. Enjoy!