Wednesday, November 3, 2010

French Bread

I think that most people would agree, there is nothing like the smell of homemade bread baking in the oven. Slicing your very own loaf of bread that you made from scratch is a great feeling. You feel powerful, accomplished, successful, amazing, and... hungry!

One of my favorite memories is my grandma's homemade bread, it was absolutely delicious, and it smelled sooo good! She would save old bread bags and then use them to give away her homemade loaves to her children, which meant that I had one of grandma's yummy loaves in my own house! I never had the chance to make bread with her. She cooked with all her grandkids, but you had to be a certain age before you could make bread. At the time, I didn't mind not being able to make bread with her; I thought of it as such a priviledge and I anticipated the day when I would be old enough. I wish now that I could have at least observed her while she prepared her famous bread. This isn't her recipe, I still have yet to get my hands on it and give it a try. My aunt has tried to make it but said it never turns out the same. My grandma swore by her old-fashioned bread mixer; someday we'll see if I can make it just like her.

I have so many wonderful memories in my grandma's kitchen, and I am starting to make new ones in my own kitchen. I never had anyone teach me to knead bread or the best way to mix it, but I am learning along the way, which I think is one of the best ways to do so. Then someday, when I'm old and have grandbabies, I can pass on all of my learned wisdom to them. And I will sound very smart, even if I'm not there yet. To get to my point here, this is a relatively easy bread to make. And if you are willing to follow my novice, self-learned advice, you can make it too!

This one's for my grandma.

French Bread
from The Old Farmer's Everyday Cookbook Almanac
Prep: 25 minutes + rising / Bake: 22-30 minutes
Yield: 2 loaves

2-1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast  
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
melted butter, for the top (I leave this part out)

1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm (110-115 degrees) water and set aside. Add the yeast to the water and give it a few stirs. It will do the rest on it's own. I use a meat thermometer to test the water temperature.

2. In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup warm water with the sugar and salt. Add the yeast and the melted butter, stir with a wooden spoon until blended.

3. Mix in the flour, one cup at a time, until a soft dough forms. I used 4-1/2 cups but probably should have used 5 because it was pretty sticky when I first started kneading it. If you're not sure how much to use, go with 4 and you can add flour while you are kneading. When you have enough flour, the dough will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl (see photos). The first cup or two of flour will be lumpy, don't worry about that, it will smooth out. The easiest way I found to mix the flour is to stir the spoon around the edge of the bowl; the dough will sort of mix in the flour itself. Trying to fold the dough over to mix in the flour is more difficult.

1 cup flour, don't fret over the lumps.
2 cups flour
3 cups flour
4-1/2 cups flour, notice how the dough pulled away from the side of the bowl.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Knead again for 1 mintue and let it rest 10 more minutes. To knead: sprinkle a small amount of flour on a clean counter. Place the dough on the counter and dip your fingers in the flour if you dough is sticky. Fold the dough towards you, then, using your palms, press the dough away from you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Add flour as needed, yet sparingly. Adding too much flour or overkneading will make the dough tough.

After the first minute
After the second minute, notice how it's smoother
5. Divide the dough in half and use your hands to gently shape each half into an 8x12-inch rectangle. Starting at the long end, roll up tightly. Place the dough seam side down on an ungreased baking sheet. Using a sharp kife, slash the top every 2 inches, cover and let rise until doubled in size. I used a pizza cutter to divide the dough. The shaping part is easier said than done. Press with your palms initially and then use your fingers to do the edges. Don't worry if it's not perfect! Mine sure wasn't! After rolling up the dough, tuck the ends under to hide any uneven edges. I let the dough rise in the oven (turned off of course) so that there weren't any drafts. To speed up the process, fill a 9x13 pan with hot water and place it on the rack under the bread. This will take about 30 minutes.

My very imperfect rectangle
6. Preheat the oven to 400. Bake for 24-30 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Place on racks to cool and brush the tops with melted butter, optional. The recipe says to bake 30-40 minutes, but mine was done at 24 minutes. Go by how your oven cooks, mine usually cooks faster than most recipes say. I don't use the melted butter on top.

I know this was a long post and thanks for sticking with me! I felt that the many pictures and explanations with each step were necessary. If you're not too bored yet, click below for my review. This bread is great with soup and it freezes very well. Enjoy!

My Review
  • Preparation: 2
    • This takes about 2 hours start to finish, but the hands-on time is only 20-30 minutes.
  • Taste: 5
    • I have made this bread twice and I'm sure I will make it again. The outside is crunchy and the inside warm and soft, just like Panera! It freezes really well; thaw it and you can pop in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes for fresh, homemade bread right away.
  • Cost: 5
    • Super cheap, I don't even try to calculate.
  • Clean-up: 5
    • Just one bowl and a messy counter to wipe off :)

1 comment:

  1. You are quite the baker little sis! I thought I commented on this already, how Grandma would be proud! I think the pictures are great for this recipe, especially how the dough forms. How to photo and not get the camera dirty? lol