Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Day for French Bread


Homemade French bread is endlessly delicious and takes any meal up a notch. And in spite of what I've read to the contrary, it freezes well (to use, thaw 1 min. in the microwave, then heat in a 350 oven for about 8 minutes). Which is why I find myself, almost every Tuesday, baking this Big Batch of French Bread. It gives me eight loaves--that's one for baking day snacks, plus seven for the week. Or three dinners where everyone gets as much bread as they want . . .

I've adapted my recipe from Martha Stewart Living, to turn out eight loaves at a time as easily as possible, something for which Martha is not known! As you'll see, the ingredient list is very simple, while the technique, not so much. However, it is *very doable*, even for a beginning baker, and the payoff is immense.

*Schoolhouse Big Batch French Bread*

Start the night before and mix up:

3 1/2 c. flour (I use King Arthur bread flour from the grocery store)
3 pinches of yeast
2 c. cold water

in a very large bowl. Use a strong spoon and mix until it comes together in a shaggy lump. Good enough. Cover well with plastic wrap and leave it in a cool place in the kitchen overnight.

In the morning, mix in:

7 c. flour
2 T. + 1 1/4 t. yeast
2 1/4 c. cold water.

Stir this in with that sturdy spoon until it's pretty mixed. Don't mind the scraps stuck to the edges of the bowl.

Let rest for 20 minutes.

Take it out onto a clean work surface, unfloured, and sprinkle with 2 T. + 1 1/4 t. salt.
Start kneading the dough, and knead until it's smooth and supple and doesn't feel lumpy, dry, or too sticky. It will undergo textural changes--start looking for a feeling of finish around the eight minute mark. It's good for your arms! Gives you curves!

Change to a new, clean bowl that's been sprayed with Pam, and is also large, or wash out your first one and spray it. Plop the dough in, spray some plastic wrap with Pam, and cover nicely. Leave it to rise for 45 minutes. Note that all risings are done in a COOL PLACE.

Lightly flour your clean counter and turn the dough out. Very gently fold it over on itself, then turn it over and do it again. It will be so stylishly floury. Replace in bowl and let rise for 75 minutes.

Gently remove again onto the floured surface and cut it into halves with a sharp knife. Cut each half into quarters. Take each of the eight sections and very lightly shape into a ball. Leave on the counter all parked together, and loosely draped over with the plastic wrap. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (my favorite!), or sprinkle with cornmeal. Shape each dough section into a baguette, trying not to deflate too much. Lay four loaves on each pan, cut diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife, cover lightly with plastic wrap, still oiled, and let rise for 40 minutes.

At last, preheat the oven to 450. With relief, slide the pans in and bake for about 25 minutes. Go for deep golden-brown, and when they're done, make sure you butter the slice you treat yourself to!

31 comments:

Margo said...

I must try this! Thanks for the detailed recipe. Do you add any whole wheat flour? I wonder if I could do 2-3 cups without too much heaviness??
I bake regular everyday bread and recently, no-knead bread because it's so drop-dead easy and delicious.

Kristi said...

Yeah! This sounds like its worth a shot. I have never made French bread before, but this would be just great to have on hand...thanks for the recipe.

Polly said...

Divine, I cannot wait to try, as I love French bread *properly* baked but have never had the nerve to do it myself. I've got a baking day scheduled soon and I'm definitely adding this to the list!

Karen said...

I can't wait to try this recipe. I love french bread. I also love parchment paper. Nothing sticks to it. Now, if I could get Costco to carry it that would be wonderful.

Rose said...

That looks doable as you say Anna. I'll file this idea for winter since you are suggesting a cool rising area and it's currently 85F here. I take it that the cool environment is to slow the rising and produce the French bread texture? R

Mary said...

Wonderful directions! You make this sound so easy to do; thanks.

Tracey said...

oooh.. sounds so good. I'm afraid I'd eat the whole loaf. I love bread. I'll have to try this though and see how it goes. I love to bake, but really need to lose a few pounds so I havn't been lately. But if it's as easy as you say..I'll give it a try.. thanks for sharing.

Toby & Kelly said...

This looks awesome! Thanks so much for sharing.
As a side note, it's your other bread recipe that I use to make bread for my family, after spending a great deal of time and energy looking for a good one! And it's your sweet roll recipe that I made to take to a party, which turned out to be my own baby shower! So thanks for sharing such good recipes...

Kate in NY said...

I was thinking of using King Arthur white whole wheat flour for at least half the flour called for. Do you think that would work? I can't wait to try - we've been spending a fortune on our daily (store-bought) French bread (though it does make me feel a bit as if I am in France!)
Best,
Kate

Joanne said...

Do you use instant yeast, or active dry?

Anonymous said...

This is a subject close to my heart. I've spent a whole winter perfecting my baguette. This link to Farm Girl's Year in Bread, was very helpful, although I did crack the glass on my oven door whilst spritzing the interior of th eoven to make the crust crispier, ooops!

http://www.foodiefarmgirl.blogspot.com/2005/07/ten-tips-for-better-bread.html

Rona's Home Page said...

French Bread makes terrific french toast!

Elisabeth said...

That sounds delicious - I'd love to try it sometime! I didn't know French bread had such a simple ingredient list. :)

Paula said...

Anna, this looks yummy. I am going to give it a try. Thanks for the helpful directions. But... how much is a pinch of yeast?

Anna said...

Paula, literally put your fingers in the yeast and take out a pinch. No other measurement needed.

Connie said...

Anna is right, a pinch is a pinch, but they actually make these tiny measuring spoons for those of us who are uncertain. The tiny measuring spoons come in a set of three: one for a 'dash', one for a 'pinch', and one for a 'smidgen'. How fun is that! (Can not find? A dash is 1/8 of a teaspoon, while the pinch is 1/16 and the smidgen is 1/32.)

Lisateresa said...

Hmmm, this is interesting. I've been right about the pinch - half of an eighth. But I've always thought of a dash as less than that (I always do my dashes carefully!)
As for the smidgeon - I've never seen a recipe which called for it!

Hannah said...

that looks delicious, i've been looking for a good french bread recipe.

TasJess said...

Yum! It inspres me to bake again once the Australian heat wave is over! Just so you know Anna, there is an award for you over at my Blog. Thankyou for your encouragement!

kirstin said...

This looks great! Any tips for freezing the bread? Do you slice it first? I am wondering what would be big enough for your beautiful loaves and tight enough to protect them from drying out.
thanks!

Katya said...

Oh, thank you! I look forward to trying this recipe as soon as I can.

Amy B. said...

I just milled flour today. I think I shall try this too. I am just entering the university of bread making and am loving the experiments!

Daisy said...

You do this every week?! I am exhausted just reading it!

tonia said...

i made this over the weekend. it's a lot of time, but not a lot of work and the results were delicious. thanks!

Amy B. said...

Oh, I tried this last week. I used fresh milled whole wheat flour, too. It didn't raise as much as I would have liked the final raising, but still turned out yummy (we used it for French Toast on Sunday). I think a little more water and maybe a little more kneeding. Will try again next week! :O)

Faith said...

I tried this today and the result is delicious! I was wondering how you keep it from being too sticky on the first kneading without flouring your surface? Maybe I didn't have enough flour in it (although I measured carefully) because it became more and more sticky the longer I kneaded. Any suggestions? Thanks for including the detailed instructions for us beginning bread bakers.

Margo said...

Ok, now I made a batch over the weekend. I halved the recipe and used 2 c. whole wheat flour. It was a bit heavy, so I might use less whole wheat next time. Or should I allow it to rise longer at any point? The directions were precise, so I just followed them as you wrote it.
Also, are the loaves supposed to be on the small side? Mine were maybe 8 - 10 inches long.
The flavor was GREAT and the texture ( a little heavy) showed promise.

Greta said...

my mom made that the other night! Oh, it was the best bread I've had in a while! Thanks for sharing the recipe

Heather said...

Thank you so much for this recipe. I am going to have to try it! Thanks for the great directions.

:)

Dee said...

I was so intimidated by this recipe, but wanted desperately to have 8 loaves of french bread. I love how it turned out! Thanks for the awesome recipe.

Jamie Bahr said...

I just finished my second piece of this delicious bread! I have always made my mom's french bread recipe, which is very easy and tasty, but this is the bomb:) Perfect crunchy crust and the softest inside ever. Thank you for this! I will be passing it along!

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