Traditional French BreadPrep Time: 4 hrs
Total Time: 4 hrs 30 mins
Yield: 2 loaves
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus flour for kneading surface
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon salt
1 ½ -2 cups lukewarm water
¼ cup water, for oven
Oven: 425º and 350º
In a small bowl, proof 1 T. Yeast with 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Set aside. In a large Bowl, mix well 4 C flour and 1 T. salt (to prevent the yeast coming in direct contact with the salt.). Pour yeast mix into the flour mix. Using a wooden spoon, stir, add additional 1 to 1 1/2 C lukewarm water until a dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (It doesn't take long for this to happen and the dough forms a clumpy mass.)
Lightly flour your work surface, and dump out to knead. Knead for about 1-2 minutes, or until you get a recognizable ball. Place dough into bowl of mixer with dough hook attachment and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Turn on mixer and let it knead for 9 minutes until smooth and elastic. Remove dough hook and bowl from mixer, and cover with plastic. Let rise in a warm place for 90-120 minutes.
Turn risen dough onto lightly floured surface and divide into two equal portions. Flatten out each portion with your hands expelling all gasses. Take the top and fold down 2/3rds onto the dough. Using the heel of your hand, seal the dough onto itself. Repeat fold and seal again. Fold down once more, but fold down to the bottom this time, sealing the top to the bottom. Taper off the ends of the dough by rolling your hands at the ends lightly with a bit of pressure to form a classic French Bread look. (At this point you can continue to roll your hands down the length of the dough to make a baguette rather than taper the ends).
Place each dough seam side down onto a baking sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Gash 3 cuts into the top of the loaves. Cover with a towel and Let rise an hour. If baking with a stone, let loaves rise in place where you shaped them covered with a towel. Very carefully transfer to your baking stone to prevent deflating them.
Preheat the oven to 425º. Place a baking pan on the bottom rack while preheating. Brush the tops of the risen dough with cool water using a pastry brush. Toss 1/2 Cup water into the pan on the bottom rack of the hot preheated oven (Beware! Steam is HOT! BE CAREFUL) Place loaves in the oven and close. Turn the oven down to 350º and bake for 28-30 minutes. Bread is done when the bottoms sound hollow when tapped and the loaves are a rich almost dark golden color.
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