Wednesday, March 20, 2013

French Bread



When a wonderful reader (also known as my awesome cousin:) emailed me asking for a good homemade French bread recipe, I knew Peter Reinhart was where I had to turn.  I have made dozens of breads from his books and they rarely fail me.  This bread is so good that my husband and I ate an entire loaf one night for dinner when it was barely out of the oven, dipped in olive oil and red wine vinegar.  There is not a lot better tasting in this world than warm, fresh bread.

This recipe is a two day affair, but it is completely worth it.  I have made several direct method (1 day) French bread recipes and none give me that crusty crust with the chewy soft middle like this one.

I am going to be submitting this tasty bread over to Yeast Spotting on Wild Yeast.

French Bread very slightly adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

Pre-Ferment

2 ounces whole wheat flour
8 ounces bread flour
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
7 ounces water, room temperature

Stir together the flour, salt and yeast.  Add in the water and stir until mixture comes together.  You may need to knead the dough slightly to get it to come together.  Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and allow to sit out for 2-4 hours.  Put in the fridge overnight.

Dough

All of the pre-ferment
5 ounces all purpose flour
5 ounces bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
7 ounces water, room temperature

Take your pre-ferment out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you want to make your final dough.  Mix together pre-ferment, all purpose flour, bread flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl.  Add in the water a little at a time until you have created a dough that is damp but not liquidy.

Knead dough in stand mixer with hook attachment for about 6 minutes (or 10 minutes by hand).  Cover dough and let raise for 2 hours.

After the raise, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times.  To make baguettes, divide dough into two portions.  Stretch each piece of the dough to a length of about 12 inches long.   Allow the dough to rest and the gluten to relax for a few minutes.  Then, roll the dough into kind of a long snake, creating surface tention as you go.  I recently purchased a French bread pan to help my dough keep it's shape during the raise and baking, however one is not required by any means.  If you do not have a baguette pan, take a clean low lint towel (I like flour sack towels for this) and lightly dust with flour.  Lay one of your baguettes on the towel, then fold the towel the length of the dough.  Lay your other baguette right next to it and fold the towel on the other side the length of the dough (to kind of make a basket for the dough).  Allow dough to raise again for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Place a baking stone or cookie sheet in the oven on a rack about 1/2 way from the top.  Place a large cast iron skillet on the bottom rack of the oven.  This is your steam pan.

Take a razor blade or lame and cut slashes in the top of your bread dough.  I use a blade from a utility knife and it seems to work well.  In the past I have used a knife, and this works, but the slashes are not as nice.  When the oven is done preheating, slide your dough onto your hot stone in the oven.  (I like to use a piece of parchment paper on the back of a cookie sheet to help with this because I don't have a bread peel).  Take 1/2 cup warm water and pour into your steam pan.  Bake for 3-4 minutes.  Remove the steam pan and turn down the temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake for another 10 minutes, rotate the pan (in case your oven bakes unevenly) and then bake for another 10 minutes or so.

Remove from oven and allow to cool if you can.

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