Perfecting French Bread
Finally done exams and now I can relax (and cook/bake)! I came home after my exam this morning and I felt like making something. Bread was the first thing that came to mind and I was quickly able to find a good recipe for basic French bread. You know, that perfect, crusty French bread that’s great with butter, in a sandwich or just by itself. By no means was my bread “perfect”, but I think it turned out pretty well and it tasted pretty good for homemade bread. Finally, a baking success! I know I said I was going to lay off the baking, but this is something I’ve been wanting to make for a while. This will definitely be a go-to recipe for bread from now on. It’s pretty simple and only has four ingredients! The original recipe has a lot of important points, so I will highlight those in my recipe below.
Here’s what you’re going to need:
Simple French Bread (adapted from Steamy Kitchen):
- 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (1 package)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (bread flour probably works best, though)
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 tsp. salt
1. Set aside 1/2 cup of the flour and put the remaining flour in your mixer bowl. Place the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl and pour the warm water over top.
2. Mix with the paddle attachment on low speed until completely combined and the dough is starting to come together.
3. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 2 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Then mix again for another 3 minutes (the resting part is important for the gluten to relax).
4. Place the dough on your floured work surface (using the flour you set aside earlier). Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, incorporating in the reserved flour as necessary. The dough should become quite smooth and tight and form a nice ball.
5. Lightly oil a large bowl (non-stick spray probably works best). Place the dough in the bowl and turn over to coat completely. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 1/2 hours (should approximately double in volume).
6. After 1 1/2 hours preheat your oven to 450°F and place your “baking vessel” in the oven to heat. Your baking vessel can be either an inverted heavy baking sheet or a pizza stone (some people use bricks). Also place another baking sheet at the bottom of your oven.
7. Punch the dough down and transfer to a floured working surface. Reform the dough into a ball then cut it in half.
8. Take one half of the dough and stretch it out into a roughly rectangular shape (the size depends on how you want your loaf to turn out).
9. Fold the long sides into the middle, as shown in the picture below.
10. Do a “karate chop” down the middle of the dough. This is important for keeping the middle tucked in. Stretch the ends out a bit more.
11. This is the most important bread-handling step: Fold the long sides into the middle again then fold the short ends in slightly. Now pinch all of the seams shut. There’s no need to be gentle to the dough at this point. You’re going to have to pinch quite firmly in order to seal all of the seams. If there is an opening at all, it will eventually burst (which happened to one of my loaves).
12. Turn the bread over so it is seam side down. Cover with a damp towel. Repeat these steps with the other dough bowl. Allow them to rest for 30 minutes.
13. Take a sharp paring knife and make about 4 shallow, diagonal scores on the top of the loaf. Set aside ~3/4 cups of cold water.
14. Slide your dough onto the inverted baking sheet/pizza stone (depending on the size. you may be able to do both loaves at the same time). Remember the other baking sheet you put at the bottom of the oven? Pour the 3/4 cups of cold water onto the sheet then shut the oven door. This creates steam, which is important for creating a nice crust on your bread. Alternatively, you can just pour the water directly on the bottom of your oven, but I decided not to do that because mine is gas and it has openings for the flames on the bottom of the oven.
15. Bake for 20-25 minutes (mine took about 22 minutes). If you have an instant-read thermometer (I don’t) you can use that to measure the temperature of the loaf. It should reach 190-200°F when it’s done. Remove your bread and allow to cool before enjoying.