Wednesday, December 5, 2012

French Bread


Everyone deals with stress in different ways, some exercise, some go shopping, some talk to a friend. I deal with stress by baking. Which means, since it's the end of the semester and finals are upon us, I have been baking up a storm. In the past week I've made:
A double batch of bagels
Pumpkin muffins
2 different kinds of cookies
A pumpkin roll (recipe to come!)
French bread

Thank goodness I have a big family who likes what I bake. And about half of everything gets put in the freezer. Well, except for the pumpkin gingersnaps I made yesterday. They're already almost gone.
I tend to make things with yeast when I know that I have other things to get done, such as studying. I justify baking by telling myself that I'll study while the dough rises, bakes, etc. Usually I end up cleaning the kitchen or starting another baking project (yesterday it was cookies) while the dough rises. But it's the thought that counts, right?
I've made bread before, quite a few times. Not the same as this, though. I really thought I was messing it up terribly until I looked it up online. Ooooh the wonders of google! I found a wonderful post here about how to make better french bread. Definitely a good article to read if it's your first time making it.
This is not a bread you make if you don't have much time... total rise time is about 6-7 hours. But, there's very little hands-on time so if you're going to be home all day doing other things, it's a great recipe to try. And it's absolutely lovely, I'm so excited about it!
I changed the recipe a bit, as I was a little low on AP flour and had an excess of bread flour, so I switched that and it seemed to work out very well. I proofed the yeast in half a cup of warm water with 2 tsp of sugar for five minutes as well as mixing it into the flour first as well.
This dough was super, super sticky. It made me pretty nervous when I was first making it, but it turned out well. I am, of course, not even close to an expert on whether or not this is anything close to real French bread, but it is delicious and definitely worth making.

French Bread
Adapted from Barbara Bakes

3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 packet fast acting yeast
2 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water

Grease a bowl for rising, set aside.
Proof yeast in a small bowl with sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
Pour flour, salt, yeast mixture, and the rest of the water into the bowl of a mixer and mix with dough hook and knead until dough is formed, adding water and flour as needed. Once dough has come together (it will be a bit sticky), put in prepared bowl and loosely cover. Let sit at room temperature until about tripled in size, around three hours.
Punch dough down, cover, and rise again for another hour and a half to two hours.
On a floured surface dump the dough out and cut into three equal pieces. Form loaves and place on parchment paper to rise. Cover and let rise at room temperature for about two hours.
Preheat oven to 500 or 550*, whichever your oven will go to. Transfer loaves on to pan or baking stone (I used a pizza pan), slash the tops with a very sharp knife, put bread in the oven, and turn heat down to 450. Take about a 1/4 cup of water, pour it on the oven floor and close it quickly**.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes (the original recipe said 25, I baked mine for 20), until golden brown. Remove and let cool for at least two hours before eating.

* This was in the post listed above, to turn the oven up to a high heat and then turn it down. It helps form a better crust.
**Be suuuper careful with this. I found it here, it creates steam which also helps a good crust form. It's cool but kind of scary so be careful that you don't burn yourself.