Otherwise known as French Bread. When I saw this post over at The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, I couldn’t wait to get started on this beautiful bread. This was almost a redemption of sorts for me, as we tackled french bread by Julia Child for the February Daring Bakers challenge, but I had less than stellar results. I had been planning to revisit that recipe and give it another go, but when I saw Jayne’s pop up, it seemed almost identical, yet much more straight forward and easy to read, so went with it! Unfortunately I had an issue (will discuss in a moment – not due to the recipe, really) when I made this on Saturday, so when my friend Annie asked if I wanted to bake anything together this week I told her I was giving this another go. She was excited and hopped on board, and we completed perhaps the most in sync virtual baking in history. This bread turned out absolutely perfect – it has the characteristic paper thin and crisp crust, with a warm, chewy and airy interior. I am already beside myself with ideas on how to use this bread – french toast, panzanella salad, roasted vegetable sandwiches, plain with cheese… the possibilities are endless!
This is the simplest of bread recipes, as it derives its flavor from the classic combination of flour, yeast, salt, and water. Because of this, there are multiple rises to allow the gluten and flavors to development, so be sure you have an entire day to devote to this bread. There are two rises during which the dough will triple in volume, and a last rise once the bread is shaped, in which it doubles in size. I chose to mimic the shapes that Jayne did and made three baguettes that were 8 oz. of dough each, a braided crown, and a round boule with the remaining dough. The next time I make this (oh yes, there will be many more times!) I think I will still do the 3 baguettes, but do one large loaf instead of two smaller ones.
In Jayne’s post she mentions how when French bread cools it begins to crackle… I was so looking forward to this, as I thought it was so cool that this happens. I took my baguettes out of the oven and was slashing my round loaves when I heard it. I ran over and pressed my ear to the baguettes like kids on the Rice Krispies commercials – it was crackling! Ahh, sweet success 🙂
Speaking of slashing, I really need to work on this. Sorry they’re not so pretty! I think I don’t do it quickly enough and the blade drags a little. I did a good job on the last white loaf I made, but this French bread forms a bit of a thin skin during its last rise that made it a little difficult to slash through. I’m sure I just need to get quicker and develop a “feel” for it.
And now, I’m sure you’re wondering what this problem was that I alluded to in my opening paragraph. This was my own fault… I made this bread initially on Saturday and was getting ready to bake it. In the recipe, it says to use a broiler pan to pour water in and create steam. I don’t have a broiler pan, so I used my 9×13 pyrex dish. I’m sure many of you can already tell what happened, since I am apparently the only person who didn’t realize that pouring hot water into a hotter glass pan would cause it to explode and shatter. Well, that’s what happened. And during the course of our clean up that took well over an hour, the poor bread that was waiting to be baked reached its breaking point and collapsed on itself. So, moral of the story: USE A METAL PAN! This time around, I used my roasting pan.
6 cups bread or unbleached flour, approximately
2 packages dry yeast
2½ cups hot water (120-130 degrees F)
2 teaspoons each salt and water
Baking Sheet or Pans: 1 baking sheet, teflon or greased and sprinkled with cornmeal, or 4 baguette pans, greased.
By Hand or Mixer: (10 mins)
The early part of this preparation, beating a batter, can be done by an electric mixer. However, don't overload a light mixer with this thick batter. If by hand, stir vigorously for an equal length of time.
Measure 3 or 4 cups of flour into the mixing bowl and add the yeast and hot water. The mixer flat beater or whisk should run without undue strain. The batter will be smooth and pull away from the sides as the gluten develops. It may also try to climb up the beaters and into the motor. If it does, push it down with a rubber scraper. Mix for 10 minutes. When about finished, dissolve the salt in the water and add to the batter. Blend for 30 seconds or more.
Kneading (10 mins.):
If the machine has a dough hook, continue with it and add additional flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough has formed under the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. If it is sticky and clings, add sprinkles of flour. Knead for 10 minutes.
If by hand, add additional flour to the beaten batter, ½ cup at a time, stirring first with a utensil and then working by hand. When the dough is shaggy but a solid mass, turn onto a work surface and begin kneading with an aggressive push-turn-fold motion. If the dough is sticky, toss down sprinkles of flour. Break the kneading rhythm occasionally by throwing the dough down hard against the countertop - an excellent way to encourage the development of the dough.
First Rising (2 hours):
Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough will more than treble in volume - and may even be pushing against the plastic covering.
(If prepared with a new fast-rising yeast and at the recommended higher temperatures, reduce the rising times by about half.)
Second Rising (1½ hours):
Turn back the plastic wrap and turn the dough onto the work surface to knead briefly, about 3 minutes.
Return the dough to the bowl and re-cover with wax paper. Allow to rise to more than triple its volume, about 1½ hours.
Shaping (10 mins)
The dough will be light and puffy. Turn it onto the floured work surface and punch it down. Don't be surprised if it pushes back, for it is quite resilient.
Divide the dough into as many pieces as you wish loaves. One-quarter (10 oz) of this recipe will make a baguette 22" long and 3" to 4" in diameter.
Allow pieces of dough to rest for 5 minutes before shaping.
For boules or round loaves, shape the pieces into balls. Place in cloth-lined baskets (bannetons) or position directly on the baking sheet. For baguettes, roll and lengthen each dough piece under your palms to 16" to 20" , and 3" to 4" in diameter. Place in a pan or on a baking sheet or in the folds of a long cloth (couche).
This loaf's characteristic couronne or "crown" can be made in several ways. One is to flatten the piece of dough, press a hole through the center with your thumb, and enlarge the hole with your fingers. Another is to roll a long strand 18" to 24" and curl into a circle, overlapping and pushing together the ends. Yet a third way is to take 2 or 3 shorter lengths of dough and join them together in a circle, not overlapping top and bottom but pressing the ends together side by side into a uniform pattern - this one will be irregular but attractive.
Third rising (1 hour)
Cover the loaves with a cloth, preferably of wool, to allow air to reach the loaves and to form a light crust. Leave at room temperature until the dough has risen to more than double its size, about 1 hour.
Before preheating the oven to 450 degrees F (very hot) 20 minutes before baking, place a broiler pan on the floor of the oven or bottom rack so it will be there later. Five minutes before baking, pour 1 cup hot water into the hot pan. Be careful of the burst of steam - it can burn. I use a long-handled cup to reach into the oven when I pour.
Baking: (450 degrees F/25-30 mins.)
Carefully move the loaves in baskets and in couches to the baking sheet. Make diagonal cuts down the lengths of the long loaves and tic-tac-toe designs on the boules.
Place on the middle shelf of the oven.
The loaves are done when a golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn one loaf over and if the bottom crust sounds hard and hollow when tapped, the loaf is done.
(If using a convection oven, reduce heat 50 degrees.)
Place on a rack to cool.