Thursday, August 27, 2009

French Bread

Have you made your own french bread? Don't or you will have a hard time enjoying the dollar loaves at the store. This easy bread will for sure be a new family treat. This is another Steamy Kitchen recipe. She sure knows bread! This recipe is a total of 3 hours so you can have it for dinner TONIGHT!
makes 2 loaves the size I have in the pic
4 cups bread flour
2 tsp active quick rising dry yeast
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1. Put 1/4 cup of bread flour on your clean counter top and reserve. Place remaining 3 3/4 cups bread flour in your mixer bowl. Spoon the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt on the other side. Pour in the warm water and with your regular mixer paddle, mix on low speed until the dough comes together in a mass. Switch to the dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Dough should clear the sides but stick to the bottom. If it is too sticky, add 1 T of flour at a time. If too dry, add 1 T of water to dough to adjust. After 2 minutes, let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
2. Turn the mixer on again and mix for 3 minutes. Take the dough out and place on the counter. Remember that 1/4 cup of flour that we reserved? We’ll use it now. As you knead the dough by hand, incorporate more flour as you need. You might not need it all. Knead by hand until the dough is very satiny, smooth, tight and formed into a nice, compact ball. Place this dough in a large lightly oiled bowl (I use Pam spray). Turn dough over so that all sides have a thin coating of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place for 1 1/2 hours. Dough should almost double in size. Punch dough down and form back into a ball. Poke your finger on the surface – the dough should give into the pressure and slowly creep back up.
3. About 1 hour into the rest stage, preheat your oven to 450F (convection 425F). Place your pizza stone, inverted baking sheet or covered cast iron pot into the oven to heat up.
4. Ok, here’s the fun part. Cut the dough into half – you’ll shape one half at a time (keep the other piece under wraps) Pick up the dough – stretch it out until it forms a big rectangle. On your countertop dusted with flour, fold over the ends.
Now do a little “karate chop” lengthwise down the middle of the bread and stretch out the long ends again. Fold over in half. The karate chop helps get the middle tucked inside. Pinch all sides shut. This is important – you want to make sure that all ends including the short ends are pinched tightly to create a seal. This allows the bread to rise & expand up and out evenly. If the bread looks a little lopsided, you can try to fix it by letting it rest 5 minutes and gently stretching it out again. Just don’t knead the dough again – you’ll pop all the beautiful gas that took 1.5 hours to create!
5. Turn the bread over so that its seam side down. Cover the loaf with a damp kitchen towel. Repeat with the other dough halve. Leave the loaves to rest on your well-floured pizza peel or cutting board for 30 minutes. After resting, take a sharp paring knife and make 3-4 shallow, diagonal slashes on the surface of the loaf. This allows the steam in the bread to escape so that it expands evenly during the baking process.
Secret #1: Knead dough with dough hook for 2 minutes. Let it rest for 7 and then knead again for another 3 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, then your formula is 6 min-7 min-7 min. Letting the dough rest at this stage allows the gluten to relax, redistribute, and get all cozy. It results ultimately a smoother, well-mixed dough. After the brief rest, you’ll feel a difference in the dough. Its more supple and soft.
Secret #2: Pinch! When you form the dough into a loaf (see photo below) pinch all ends tightly to create a seal. Basically, you are creating surface tension so that the gas from the yeast (or as Alton Brown describes “When the yeast burps”) the dough expands up and out evenly. If I don’t create this surface tension, the dough in the oven will just go “blah” like Al Bundy on the couch. Something called gravity makes the dough expand down and flat.
Secret #3: Use a pizza stone, cast iron dutch oven or my favorite Pampered Chef Covered Baker. Just make sure that your loaf will fit into the vessel. Stone or cast iron retains heat and radiates the heat of the oven evenly. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, just use a good quality, thick baking sheet inverted.
Secret #4: Steam = thin, crunchy, beautiful crust. In the No Knead recipe, there is a high proportion of water to flour. Because the NK dough rests for multiple hours, lots of water in the recipe works. In this 3 hour french bread recipe, you can’t do that. To make steam (a.k.a. crust) – you have to do one of 2 things, depending on the baking vessel. -> Pizza stone or baking sheet: Once you put the bread in the oven, throw 1/2 cup of water on the oven floor (electric oven) and immediately close the door. No, it won’t harm the oven. Its a technique that professional bakers recommend for home ovens (professional ovens have a built in steamers). Once the water hits the hot oven floor, it creates steam, which creates the crust. -> Covered baker or dutch oven: You’ll need less water – about 1/4 cup. Once you put the loaf into the very hot pot, throw in the water and over the lid immediately. Put the pot directly in the oven. Because you’ve pre-heated the oven AND the pot for 1 hour, the trapped water in the pot will create steam. If you are shy about throwing water in, grab a pie pan or loaf pan, preheat it along with whatever you are baking on, and throw the water in that instead of the oven floor. Basically, cold water in hot pan + hot oven = steam. I have an electric oven (heating element is on the top of oven). Some bakers throw ice cubes in, but I prefer water.
Secret #5: Timing and temperature:
Have an instant read thermometer. The internal temperature of the bread should be 190-210F.
All ovens are different and I’m sure our loaves will be different shapes.
The timing in the recipe below is just a guide for you – this is what works in my oven and how I shape my loaves.
Please make sure that you check the internal temp of your bread to gauge doneness.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds really good. So much of cooking by scratch has been lost, with a corresponding loss of taste and nutrition. I'm glad you are reviving the art.