Saturday, November 19, 2011

Let the games begin!

On the way to Thanksgiving day, there's a lot of things that happen in advance.

One of those things is making bread.
I like to use cornbread and day old french bread in my dressing (loaf bread or day old biscuits work too).
So today, I baked a round of french baguettes.

Now, I know better than to think that there will be any left for dressing, but that is why I started today.
Two days, consecutively, making 4 baguettes each time, and I'll surely have a few little hunks tossed into the fridge by Wednesday.

This is the recipe I use.  Easy and not much trouble, as far as homemade breads go, it's nice and hard on the outside and wonderfully chewy on the inside.  This is not a traditional French bread recipe that begins with a poolish and takes several days.  This is simplified, get it done today version that works well for me.

French Bread

Makes 1 boule, 2 batards, 4 baguettes or 8 petite pains

2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of sugar
2/3 cup of warm water (I use hot tap water)
4 cups of flour (I use a combination of bread flour, semolina and white wheat, heavily loaded toward bread)
1 cup of cool water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

In a large bowl, pour the warm water over the yeast and sugar.  Stir it and let it sit about 10 minutes.  It should become foamy and bubbly.

Alternating a cup full of the flour mixture and the cool water, make additions while stirring.  Keep adding until you get a dough ball formed which is soft and elastic.  Adjust water and flour to gain the proper 'feel' of elasticity.  When you get a good texture, knead this dough for 8 to 10 minutes.

Oil the dough on all sides, lightly, and set it to rise in a large container until it triples in size.  This should take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on temperature and humidity.

Turn the dough out on a floured surface. Divide the dough equally. ( I eyeball it, it's bread, for goodness sakes, not rocket science!)  Make which ever shape your little heart desires.  We love baguettes and the four of them look like so much 'more' bread than one large round boule.  I also don't get crazy forming baguettes (which explains a lot about how they look).  I grab a ball of dough, and 'playdough' roll it to form a long skinny 'stick', then stretch the stick to the length desired.  You see in the photo above, that I got 4 different lengths (even if you discount the one with a small hunk missing).

I bake the french bread on a baking sheet, with a silicone baking mat, onto which I toss a tablespoon or so of cornmeal.  Lay your bread (which ever shape) on the mat, and cover it.  Let it rise again, between 1 and 2 hours, till it more than doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  You can brush the bread with an egg glaze (one egg white, one Tablespoon of water, whisked thoroughly) or not.  I didn't.  I kind of prefer it with a brushing of butter when it comes out of the oven.  Either way, I get a nice crispy crust.

You also need to take a nice sharp razor blade or knife (note in the photos that I need to get a new razor blade, as mine is getting dull and drags through the dough) and cut diagonal slices in the bread at intervals. This allows for oven rise and keeps the bread from becoming misshapen while baking.

For one round boule, you bake it about 35 minutes.
For batards, and baguettes, about 22 minutes.
For buns, about 18 to 20 minutes.
When done, the bread, when tapped, should sound hollow.

French bread is best eaten the day that it's cooked.
This is never a problem here.
If I do happen to bake it on a day when everyone suddenly develops dinner plans elsewhere, I simply a baguette or two to the neighbors.
This makes for happy neighbors and less enticement every time I walk back through the kitchen.

Printable version of the recipe:  French Bread

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