FishDreamer scribbles: Seeking Serenity Online

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

French Bread

I typed up my mother-in-law's recipe for French bread, and I thought I'd post it here in case anyone wants to try it. The rising times mean it takes a while, but the actual work is pretty low key. I make this sometimes when I get home from work, so it's not an all-day affair. If you try it, I'd love to hear how it works out.

4-6 cups flour (I use bread flour, sometimes put in .5 to a cup of whole wheat or rye)
1 scant tablespoon yeast (equivalent to one packet)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups hot water (110 degrees F or so)

In a large bowl, mix the hot water with the yeast, sugar, and salt. Let sit for 15 minutes until foamy (this tells you the yeast is active). Add the flour half a cup at a time, mixing thoroughly (I mix with a wooden spoon). When it's too stiff to stir, scrape the dough out onto a floured surface (counter, board, whatever) and knead, continuing to add flour by the handful (a tablespoon or so at a time) until the dough is elastic and springy. Knead for up to ten minutes, when the dough should be satiny and no longer really sticky. (You get a feel for this after a while, and it's always okay to knead a little too long if you're not sure.)

Form the dough into a ball and let it rest while you clean the bowl and then oil it lightly. Put the dough in the bowl and then turn over, so it's greased on all sides. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until doubled in bulk (half an hour to an hour, depending on how warm). To test if it's ready, poke the dough with your finger. If it springs back, it's not ready yet.

When it's risen, punch it down in the bowl, knead very gently a few times, and then cover and let rise again. After the second rise, turn the dough out on the counter. Divide into two pieces and shape into long narrow loaves (I tend to roll it like clay). Scatter cornmeal onto your baking pan (unless you have a french loaf pan) and then place the loaves on the pan with space between them. Turn the oven to 400 F. Let rise until (again) doubled, and then slash the tops with a sharp knife (like you've seen on french loaves, parallel slashes across the top) and pop in the oven. Do NOT open the door for at least ten minutes. If you need to turn them (my oven has a hot spot, so I do), do that after ten minutes. It should take twenty to thirty minutes to bake.

Test doneness by tapping on the base of the loaf - it should sound hollow (another thing you get the feel for after a while) and the loaf should be dark brown. You're supposed to let it rest until cool before cutting, but I never can. I freeze one loaf (after it's completely cooled) and we eat the other.

I use the cornmeal if I bake on a cookie sheet because it helps keep the bread from sticking to the pan. And if you really want a serious chewy crust, spray the inside of the oven with water (from a mister) when you put the bread in, and again after ten minutes. If you use more than a cup of other flour, the loaf might be crumbly and dry. I tend to use only half a cup. Sometimes I knead in a cup of grated cheese, which makes it go even better with spaghetti.

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