Recently I found myself wanting to try a hand at making some of the forgotten food staples from years ago. Like, homemade French bread.
Truth be told, I had a bread maker a few years ago. I LOVED that bread maker. I made loaf after loaf of Italian bread, hearty molasses bread, and other gluten filled treasures. Sadly, that bread maker finally bit the dust and I never fixed nor replaced it.
The bread maker was excellent at baking low maintenance loaves of bread. It could even be set to make dough for things like non-loaf Italian bread and French baguettes, traditional shapes that don’t exactly fit the confines of a pan.
I love baguettes. So, given the fact that my bread maker is no more, and I wanted some fresh bread for a spaghetti dinner, I thought I’d try my hand one making it from scratch — with my own two hands. I wanted something that didn’t need a day to prepare, or even hours. I wanted to find a recipe that if, on a whim, I wanted French bread for dinner and I had about an hour’s notice, I could make it.
Mmmm… French bread.
I added yeast and sugar to warm-ish water and let it dissolve and “proof” (i.e. get foamy) for about 10 minutes in the bowl of my KitchenAid Mixer. The yeast never really gets foamy like it’s supposed to, but still seems to get my doughs (bread, pizza, etc.) to rise the way they should.
After the 10 minutes is up, I added salt, olive oil and most of the flour to the mixer bowl, and then used a dough hook on medium-low for a couple of minutes. Then I added the last of the flour, let the dough hook do its work for a little while longer, and then turned the stiff dough out onto my floured counter.
I kneaded the dough by hand for about 10 minutes, adding a little flour when the dough got sticky along the way — this is a work out!
After making the kneaded dough into a satisfying, smooth round, I coat it with more olive oil and then set it into a large bowl (covered with a towel in my oven) to rise until it has doubled, about 15 minutes. Then, I pulled the dough out, punched it down, and divided it into two parts.
Each half was rolled and pressed into a squarish/rectangular shape about 1/4″ thick, and then rolled up lengthwise — kind of on the diagonal — to make two baguettes. These were placed on nonstick sheets coated with cornmeal on baking pans, and left to rise for 30 minutes in a warm, undrafty place (again, my oven).
After they finished rising I had to make slits on top with a really sharp knife, and then they each looked like this:
The baguettes were baked in a really hot oven (450°F!) for about 30 minutes, and I began checking them at about 20 minutes in, just in case one started browning before the other. I also set a metal baking pan with about an inch of water in the bottom of the oven to help create steam. The moisture is what makes for a crispier crust on the outside of the loaves.
And, ta-da! Not bad for a first attempt! It went perfectly with my spaghetti.
- 5-1/2 cups Bread Flour
- 2 cups Warm Water (about 140°F)
- 1 tablespoon Yeast ((one packet))
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil ((plus a little extra for the rise))
- 1 tablespoon Sugar
- ½ cup Cornmeal
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar in warm water - around 100°F, and then let it proof (sit) for about 10 minutes.
- Add the salt, oil and 3 cups of flour and then mix it for 2 minutes with a dough hook in a KitchenAid (or similar) mixer.
- Add the 2 remaining cups of flour, and continue mixing for about 30 seconds - the dough will be very stiff. Dump it out onto a floured counter.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding a little flour as you go if the dough gets too sticky.
- Round the dough off into a large ball, coat it in olive oil, and then set it to rise, covered in a large bowl, somewhere warm and undrafty (I use my oven - turned off, but with the light on).
- Once it's doubled in size (about 15-30 minutes), punch the dough down and split it into 2 halves. Roll and press each half into a rectangle shape and then roll them lengthwise to make 2 baguettes.
- Place each baguette on a cornmeal coated baking sheet, and let them rise again in a warm, undrafty place for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F and place a metal pan with about 1" of water on the bottom of the oven. The steam from the hot water will help to make a crustier exterior on your French bread.
- Use a very sharp knife to make 3 diagonal slits on top of each loaf, and then bake them for 30 minutes in the top ⅓ of your oven. You'll want to check the loaves around 20 minutes to make sure the upper loaf isn't browning too quickly - if it is, just switch the racks.
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