Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crusty French Bread*

Prep time: 15 min.
Rising time: 2-4 hours
Baking time: 20 min.

What You Need:

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 Cup water
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 Cup flour
cooking spray

What You Use:

microwave safe cup
large mixing bowl
large cutting board
sheet pan
rolling pin
sharp knife

What You Do:

1. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, sugar, yeast, salt. Stir to combine.

2. In your microwavable cup, heat 1/2 Cup water and 1 Tbsp shortening. The goal is to melt the shortening.

3. Add 1 Cup water to the heated water and melted shortening. You're adding the cooler water to lower the temperature of the water so it won't kill the yeast. If the yeast is dead, your bread will not rise.

4. Add water and melted shortening to the flour mixture.

5. Mix until the dough becomes a ball of sorts. Then, turn it out onto a large cutting board.

6. Kinda knead. This dough isn't like other yeast breads that must be kneaded to create a lot of gluten. This is a very tender bread. The order of kneading will go like this: lump of dough turns to lump of dough that looks layered to round dough ball. (See the following pics.)

7. When the dough looks like a smooth ball, drop it back in the large mixing bowl.

8. Cover with a towel, let sit until it doubles in size. This might take an hour or two, depending on the heat and humidity in your house.

9. After dough has risen, dump the dough back out on the cleaned, dry cutting board.

10. Knead with your knuckles. Most people refer to this as "punching down" the dough. But, as Alton Brown so helpfully taught us, the point of this exercise is to redistribute the gas bubbles to create an even bread product. So, fold your dough like a tri-fold wallet, knead a few times with your knuckles, fold again like a tri-fold wallet. Do this about 4-5 times.

11. Leave the dough on the board, cover it with the upside-down bowl. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

12. While the dough is resting, spray the sheet pan with oil. You can then sprinkle the pan with a Tbsp of cornmeal, if you like.

13. After dough has rested, cut dough in half. Leave one half on the board and put the other back in the bowl for a moment.

14. Roll the dough into a 9" x 12" rectangle. Then, roll the dough from the long side. Use your fingers to pinch the seam together. Lay the dough log, seam side down on the sheet pan. Using your sharp knife, make 6-7 diagonal cuts across the top of the dough. This isn't just for decoration. It allows the dough to expand as it rises. Repeat process with the other dough half.

15. Cover sheet pan with a towel and set aside until the loaves double in size. Again, this could take 1-2 hours.

16. When dough has doubled in size, heat oven to 400 degrees F.

17. Bake bread for 20 min or until golden brown and delicious. You'll know the bread is done when you knock the top and it sounds hollow. BE CAREFUL. The bread is HOT.

18. Let bread cool 20 minutes before cutting. This allows the cell structure of the bread to set. Of course, if you can't resist (and really, who can), get yourself some butter and tear into that bread like a starved woman. I'm only guessing that you might feel overcome with a bread craving. Me, I'm a beacon of restraint...

* I adapted my recipe from Taste of Home's recipe. If you would like to see my starting point, go here.

The bits and pieces.

This is what your dough will look like out of the bowl.
Start kneading.

This is the layered look.
Keep kneading.

Finally! A dough ball.
Plunk it in the bowl...

...and cover it. Park the covered bowl
in a warm, moist place until the dough doubles.

Knead with your knuckles.

Roll out the dough.
Pretty is nice, but as you can see
I don't roll pretty.

Pinch the seams.

Lay the loaves seam side down. I like cornmeal
on the bottom of the loaf. If you want
cornmeal on the top, now's the time to sprinkle.
And, take care when you slice the loaves.
I went too deep.

As you can see here.
They look a little ... odd. You can see where my "helper"
adjusted the top loaf.
Oh, well. They'll still taste good!

Mmmmm... bread.

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