Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Basic French Bread

Bread can be so tricky. There are so many techniques to achieve different textures and densities and then there are the many variables with all the kinds of flours, gluten content and temperatures. So many ways to screw it up! And I am definitely a novice. I can bake basic bread, but if it needs any special treatment I definitely need more practice.

Anyway, today I tried out a basic French Bread. It is cheap to make, versatile and can be used with so many different meals. This time I did some research and tried out some new techniques and these loaves came out better than ever. I still have a ways to go to perfecting it, but am happy to see improvements.

I watched this great how-to video on youtube and it really helped a lot.

Makes 3-4 loaves

2 Tbsp yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
7 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt

Dissolve yeast in water, add sugar and let it sit for 10 minutes or so (until foamy). Then add salt and 2 cups of water. Beat until well mixed. Add the rest of the flour and knead on a floured board (or in your mixer) for about 5 minutes (longer if you are using whole wheat). Cover and let rise for 30-45 minutes (until doubled in size).

Grease a couple of baking sheets (or use baking paper) and sprinkle lightly with corn meal. Take the bread and punch it down, kneading for 1 minute. Cut the dough ball in to 3 or 4 pieces and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.

Turn on the oven to 450 (232 C) to preheat. Roll each dough piece into a rope not quite as long as the baking sheet. Place on the baking tray and make sure there is ample space between loaves. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal cuts (about 1/2 inch) on the top of each loaf; then you can brush with an egg wash for shine or spray a little water and add sesame seeds or whatever else you want to put on top. Let the loaves raise until double (30-45 minutes).

While the bread is raising for the final time, you want to prepare a "steam oven" which will create the breads crunchy crust. To do this place an oven safe pan on the lowest rack or floor over your oven with several cups of hot water. When you put your bread in, the steam will be circulating in the oven and that will help make the crust nice and crunchy while keeping the inside soft.

Bake at 450 (232 C) for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 (176 C) for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. The bread should make a hollow sound when tapped. Remove from pans and cool.

This bread is best fresh and does not age well, so keep it wrapped in plastic overnight or it will get stale. If you aren't going to use it within 2 days, wrap in plastic and freeze until you are ready to use it.

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