Monday, April 20, 2009

FRENCH BREAD FROM SCRATCH


Yes, it can be done and it's easy! I love the
flavor and texture of french bread, but I
don't like the fact that the only way to buy 
it here is previously frozen. The store tries
to make it more desirable by reheating it and 
selling it warm, but the crust is so tough from 
being thawed and heated that it is hard to 
even cut through with a serrated knife.

This recipe is very simple and I have even
put step by step pictures so that you can
follow along with, even if you have never
made a loaf of bread in your life!

I have a lot of people tell me that they
will try the recipes on my blog, but they
never turn out as good as I make them
sound. Hmmm...well I think one of the 
first things you should do is to stop 
substituting ingredients in recipes.
Yes, I know you do that--I've seen you.

Second, follow the directions. I know this
sounds obvious, but I can't tell you how
many people say that they did everything
the recipe said except _ _ _ _ _....
That works O.K. most of the time with
regular cooking, but once you step into
the realm of baking you kind of have to
become like a chemist with OCD.

Personally, I think ingredients are way too
expensive nowadays to be experimenting
with recipes. To me, if you are not following
the directions of a proven and time tested
recipe, then you are basically experimenting.
And we all know how experiments turn out
sometimes.

O.K., if you're still with me, on to Homemade 
French Bread.

First of all pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 2 1/2 packages yeast,
2 teaspoons salt. Stir in 2 cups of warm water (110 degrees--
get yourself a thermometer folks) and beat with a wooden
spoon until well blended. Stir in 3 1/2 cups more flour
until well combined. If you live in a very dry and arid
area you may end up using less flour than this.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead
in enough extra flour to make a stiff dough. The picture above 
shows the ragged dough ready to be kneaded. Knead about 
8-10 minutes with an up and over motion, pressing down with
the heel of your hand and turning the dough up and over onto
itself until it is smooth and elastic. Kneading is not difficult
and it's a great way to get rid of your pent up frustration 
with all the government overspending.

Here is the smooth and elastic dough formed into a nice
ball shape after about 7 minutes of kneading. Compare to 
the picture above to see the difference you are looking for 
in the dough.

Grease or oil a large, clean bowl. Place dough ball in bowl
and turn over to coat the dough on all sides. This keeps it
from sticking as it rises in the bowl. Cover completely
with plastic wrap to hold the heat in and place in a warm
spot to raise. I prefer my oven with the light on and we
keep our house fairly cold so I also turn the oven on for
a couple of minutes to let it heat and then turn it off.
The dough will rise faster if the temperature is right.
You can let it rise in a cooler place, it will just take a
LOT longer. You want to let this dough rise until it
has doubled in size.

These are the bread plans I use for French Bread. I found
one of these at a garage sale, the other was a gift from
my sister. They are available at better kitchen stores.
If you don't have one you can still make French Bread
on a regular cookie sheet, just make sure the sheet
is greased and sprinkled with cornmeal so the loaves
won't stick. The above pans have tiny holes all along
the bottom so the air circulates and the loaves get
crispy along the bottom. Plus the round shape
makes it easy-peasy to get a nice looking loaf.

Here is my dough, doubled in size. This took about an hour
in my warmed oven with the light on. Take the plastic
off and "punch" the dough down. Basically this means to
stick your fist in and deflate the dough so you can shape
it and let it rise again.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces (or 3 if you are making
the smaller and skinnier baguettes that fit in the 3 way
pan that I showed above) and place on a lightly floured
surface. Cover with a clean cotton towel. Set your timer
for 10 minutes to let the dough rest. Yes, you need to set 
the timer. There is no way humanly possible to remember
something this mundane once you get busy doing other 
stuff around the house. This rest time relaxes the gluten 
so it will be much easier to roll out into a rectangle. You 
can skip this step, but I'm telling you it's worth the 10 
minute wait so you don't have to wrestle with the dough.

When the 10 minutes was up I easily rolled the dough
into a rectangle with my rolling pin. I make it as long
as my pan and wide enough to make it look like a nice
rectangle. If you have ever made cinnamon rolls, this
is basically the same thing. Starting at a long side, roll
it up tightly, making sure to keep it even so you end
up with nice, even rolls. You can taper the ends too
to make it look more authentic, but I don't because
I don't like the ends to dry out from cooking faster
because they are smaller. But that's just me.

Pinch the seam on itself so it doesn't unravel while baking.
If you are really worried about it you can also seal it with
a bit of warm water brushed along the seam.

Here are the rolled and shaped loaves resting
in the pan. Now cover these with the cotton
towel and let rise again in the warm oven with
the light on until they are almost doubled in
size. This usually takes about 35-40 minutes,
depending on how warm the area is they are
rising in of course.

Once the loaves have doubled in size I brush them with a 
mixture of 1 egg white and 1 teas. of water whisked together. 
This is what gives the nice shiny brown finish on French Bread. 
It is optional and you can leave it off if you prefer more of a flat 
finish on your loaves.

An important step is to slash the tops of the loaves about
1/4 inch deep. This allows the gasses to release when the
bread is cooking, plus I think it looks really cool. You
want to use the sharpest knife you have for this because
if you use anything less than ultra sharp you will just
make a big gummy mark in your pretty loaf and then
you'll be mad at me because your bread doesn't look
like the ones in my pictures.


Here is another thing I do that is optional...I place a
shallow casserole dish with some water in it to heat up
in the oven. This creates steam (so BE CAREFUL when
opening the oven door!) while the bread is cooking that 
makes the crust of the bread crispy and bubbly. You know, 
the kind that crackles all over when you take a bite? Yummy. 
Again, this is optional and your bread will have smooth 
crusts if you choose not to place the water in the oven.
You can also just reach in once in awhile and use a spray
bottle to spray water on the sides of the oven to make
the steam.

Slide the pans into your pre-heated oven and set
the timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, rotate
your pans so the back is facing the front to even out
the cooking and brush the loaves again with the
egg wash.

Edited to add: after rotating the pans the 
bread needs to cook another 15-20 minutes!

Here is the finished product! The crust is crisp and crunchy,
the inside is soft with a slightly chewy center. In this house
these 2 loaves will be gone before you can say Bob's Your Uncle.

Good luck and please send me a picture if you try it and
love the results. If you try it and substitute something or
don't follow the instructions you don't need to send me 
any pictures--I'll just use my imagination.  :-P


9 comments:

Niki RuralWritings said...

I usually use my breadmaker for the dough, then bake in the oven, but this looks very easy and delish! Also cool pans!

Laura ~Peach~ said...

looks yummy will have to try it... i always follow direction the FIRST time I make something new... after that anything is fair game...but certian things like breads I dont alter... they are just tooo good the way they originate... will have to try this ... soon!

Debbie in CA : ) said...

I'm with Laura Peach -- I follow the first time, then I dance into all kinds of delicious disasters ... or not! I am a wee bit jealous of those bread pans (must have them). I have a baguette recipe using mostly whole wheat that I have been wanting to try, so I may have a bake-off. I know the steam is a must. Yummy! I'm off for breakfast.
: D

mary said...

You are my baking hero! I think I am brave enough to try baking my own french bread. I promise to follow the directions the first time :)

Our weather here is finally beautiful! Have you been able to start a garden yet?

How is the new kitchen? Since Missy is getting married, my kitchen remodel is on hold. I think when a son gets married, you just lose a bathroom remodel :)

Karen Deborah said...

Gorgeous you are a superb baker. Have you ventured into sour dough's?

Caution Flag said...

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Why do you have to talk about me that way?? I thought we were friends...

LadiesoftheHouse said...

Sorry guys--I edited the recipe because I left off the extra cooking time after rotating the pans--my bad! I hope nobody tried it already because the bread will be undercooked!

pam said...

This is why I am a chef, NOT a baker. I do know you have to be precise to bake. So I let my best friend do all that. I am more of a free spirit in the kitchen, and I totally rock, but I realize it's more suited to cooking and not baking. I can totally smell that bread Kris. ummmmmmm

Karen Deborah said...

I want some of those pans!