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Monday, November 27, 2006

French Bread

Mr. Chalmers's boss was kind enough to share her beau's recipe for French bread with me, and also sent Mr. Chalmers home with a perforated French bread pan! As soon as he handed over the recipe, I started the dough. The process is simple, no-frills, and probably doesn't even require the use of the special pan (though it helps the dough keep its shape). Crust was great: crisp, shattering, and a beautiful golden color. The bread is salty, as it should be: you get lots of flavor for a plain white-flour bread. Definitely the best French bread I've made.

This picture is terrible, but don't let that stop you from trying the recipe.
Joe's French bread: Dissolve 1 sachet (1 scant tablespoon) instant yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water, with a pinch of sugar. Let sit until it bubbles a bit, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon fine sea salt (I used coarse kosher) and 1 cup unbleached bread flour (I used White Lily, but the new Gold Medal with a bit of barley in it was recommended). Beat with a wooden spoon for a minute or so. Add 2 to 3 cups more flour, to make a somewhat stiff dough; knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until no longer sticky. Let rise for a couple hours. (Apparently a second rising works better, but I just did one.)

Cut dough in half and roll into French loaf shapes or baguettes (Julia Child's instructions for folding, patting, rolling are worth looking at). Place in greased pans and let rise for 45 to 60 minutes. Cut deep slits in loaves and let rest for 5 minutes. Place in the middle of a cold oven and set the temperature to 400 degrees. Toss 4 or 5 ice cubes onto the floor of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. Add a few more ice cubes halfway through the baking to make it crustier. (I misted the oven a bit instead.) Try to let the bread cool for 20 minutes or so before slicing into it.

A few days later, I made rye bread using the cold oven technique—it worked really well, I think. I used maybe 1 cup of rye flour, the rest regluar bread flour, and added 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds. Oh, and I used about a cup of sourdough starter and just 1/2 tablespoon yeast. Let it sit all day in the fridge because we went out before I was able to bake it. I just finished eating the last of it and neglected to take a picture, but it looked like your basic rye bread.

3 comments:

barefoot baker said...

To ice or de-ice: In the absence of a steam-injection oven, I've used many ways over the years to get a moist environment for baking bread. Throw water from wet fingertips (this gets a little messy in the kitchen, between sink & oven); squeeze a wet rag into the oven (also sloppy). I was proud of the technological advancement of throwing the ice cubes onto the oven floor--works great, but over time those hissing, steaming cubes tended to warp the bottom of the electric oven. Repairmen could never understand why my bottom was so wierd (my OVEN bottom, mind you!). Ok, had to get a new stove--I'd mangled the burners & oven so badly, next step was the gas stove. Can't throw ice cubes in there, or even squirt in the downward direction, for fear of dousing the gas flame. So I invested in a squirt bottle for water only--(no window cleaner) and decided to take care not to wet the oven bottom, but to spray the bread dough directly. This gets OK results, but starting out with wet dough in the oven isn't ideal. Now I have an electric oven again, then the epiphany: from a magazine article about Lou Preston, owner & winemaker of Preston Vineyards of Healdsburg, CA--the guy has a brick oven, commerical stainless kitchen(envy)but his second best trick is to squirt the SIDES of the oven taking care not to spray near the heating element or lightbulb. I now swear by this--no wet dough, great crust, and now my bottom is flat! (Hoping the sides don't buckle.)His first best trick is cold water mixing after a bit of warm water to start the yeast, using a biga, and using long slow rise times.

Mary Jessica said...

Now THIS is cozy good times for the whole family. (I loved your waiting-on-the-front-porch-all-bundled-up cozy story too.) I showed Allison your blog - the three of us should get together again at Big City, babies in tow, real soon! xo MJ

Deborah said...

Ice cubes, brilliant! The owner of my local bakery told me to mist the oven every so often. I never liked that method because so much heat escaped from my suzy bake oven that I gave up on it, but ice cubes, yes. Got to try that!