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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Easy Crusty French Bread

bread-1.jpgbread-3.jpgThe gourmet in me wants to make things from scratch, the frugal in me wants to make things from scratch, and the health nut in me HAS to make things from scratch.  Convenience comes at a price, sometimes to our pocket books, sometimes to our health, sometimes both.  It’s just a matter of fact that if you make it at home, it’s going to be healthier for you (and cheaper).  The drawback is that with homemade items you have to have precision.  Every time you open a package the results will be the same, but every time you cook the item at home the results will vary if the method or ingredients vary.  For example, your homemade caramel sauce will be dry and hard if cooked a minute too long and you will be utterly embarrassed when your guests try to dip their apple slices into it.  L  But I keep trying because the price of convenience foods outweighs the price of homemade foods every time.  Literal price and the price my body pays for ingesting chemicals.  Packaged foods are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and more.  Plus UCLA found that convenience foods didn’t even save people time.  Read the article here.  So to me it’s worth a little extra time to save myself money and unhealthy consequences.  I encourage you to move out of your comfort zone and try making something from scratch.

One of the easiest things I know to make is yeast bread.  It’s fairly hard to ruin.  And yet, I think yeast bread is probably the most feared.  This recipe only calls for flour, salt, yeast and water, how easy is that!  This can be made in the Cuisinart, KitchenAid, or even by hand.  There is prep involved, and patience, but the amount of work involved is really minimal. 

If you’re home you can start this in the morning.  If you work you can start the evening before.  Starting the dough early lets the dough sour a bit and develop a good flavor and chewy texture.  When I have tried to cheat and cut short the time, the bread just turns out like soft bland white bread.  What you’re looking for is a crusty, chewy, French loaf. 

Prep


If you own a food processor, read here, if not scroll down (I have a 7 cup model and it works fine):
Fill a liquid measuring cup with warm water to between 1 1/3 & 1 ½ cups and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Rapid Rise Yeast (also known as bread machine yeast) over it and let dissolve. 

Place 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached) in processor and add 2 teaspoons salt, pulse to mix. 

With the machine running pour the liquid into the liquid spout and run until it forms a ball of dough.  This should only take a minute or two.  There isn’t any kneading involved. 

Then place dough in an oiled bowl (I use Olive Oil).  Turn to coat the dough, cover and place in a warm place to let rise all day.  (If you’re making this the night before, let it rise 90 minutes and then place it in the fridge.) 

If you want to use a stand mixer, read here, if not scroll down:
Fill a liquid measuring cup with warm water to between 1 1/3 & 1 ½ cups.  Pour the water into the bowl of the processor and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Rapid Rise Yeast (also known as bread machine yeast) over it and let dissolve. 

Turn the machine on low (mine says level 2) and add 2 teaspoons of salt.  Add one cup of all-purpose flour (I use unbleached) at a time until you have added 3 ½ cups.  Let it knead for 10 minutes. 

Then place dough in an oiled bowl (I use Olive Oil).  Turn to coat the dough, cover and place in a warm place to let rise all day.  (If you’re making this the night before, let it rise 90 minutes and then place it in the fridge.)  

Now if you don’t have the machines and want to make this by hand, here is how to do it:
Fill a liquid measuring cup with warm water to between 1 1/3 & 1 ½ cups.  Pour the water into a bowl and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Rapid Rise Yeast (also known as bread machine yeast) over it and let dissolve. 

Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup of all-purpose flour (I use unbleached) and stir (I like to use a metal beater from my electric mixer, I know it’s weird, but it does the job really well). 

Add another cup of flour and keep stirring.  When it gets too hard to stir you will want to dump it onto a floured counter and knead it while adding more flour, until you have added a total of 3 ½ cups flour.  Knead it for 10 minutes. 

Then place dough in an oiled bowl (I use Olive Oil).  Turn to coat the dough, cover and place in a warm place to let rise all day.  (If you’re making this the night before, let it rise 90 minutes and then place it in the fridge.)  

Tip


A perfect dough is one that cleans the sides of the mixer as it is mixed.  You want a dough that is sticky, but not gooey.  If you touch it, it should feel moist, but not stick to your finger.  If it’s too gooey you can add a bit of flour.  If you add too much flour, however, you will get a tough, dry loaf.  If you’re going to err, it’s better to err on the sticky side. 

Shape


I like simplicity, so I shape my loaf into a boule (boo LAY), which is just a round loaf.  There is no special pan needed, no rolling or folding into thirds like a French baguette.  A boule is like a large dinner roll.  I just take the dough in my hands and turn it into itself a few times and pinch the dough to close.  Place it on a pan and cover; let it rise for a while.  You’ll want to choose a pan that won’t warp in the high oven heat (I use my pizza stone).  I usually let it rise at least 45 minutes.  If the dough has been in the fridge it will need a bit longer. 

Bake


It’s important to bake this loaf at 450° so preheat the oven 30 minutes ahead of time.  Don’t trust your electronic signal on your oven.  Mine has never been accurate.  If I set my oven for 450°, it will beep at 350°, telling me it’s done preheating.  If I didn’t have a thermometer I would trust the oven signal, but my thermometer tells be otherwise.  Ovens can heat up to about 200° in the conventional 10 minutes, but need more time to rise to 450°. 

Right before placing the loaf in the oven I like to take a sharp knife and cut a few slashes across the top horizontally and vertically to make a nice crosshatch pattern. 

Place in the oven on the center rack.  Steam is what gives a wonderful crust.  I take a cup of water (maybe ¼ cup) and throw onto the oven floor and shut the door quickly.  Some people use a spray bottle and spray inside the oven.  Either way you will want to do this a few times in the next 20 minutes.  After the 20 minutes you lower the oven temperature to 350°.  Bake another 25 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and thumping on the bottom gives a hollow sound. 

I serve immediately.  You will want a good bread knife for slicing because this crust is really crisp.  You can let it cool if you like, but the crust is best right away.  If you want to refresh leftovers, place in the oven for 10 minutes at 350°. 

This is wonderful dipped in Extra Virgin Olive Oil with herbs added like in Italian restaurants.  I add garlic powder, basil, gourmet salt, fresh cracked pepper, Italian herb blend or whatever I have on hand.  Also wonderful spread with spreads, like my Pesto Cream Cheese Spread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (recipe will follow someday). 

This recipe is also great as a pizza crust or smaller rolls.  If you want to make small round rolls (recipe will make about 6), you can bake them at 450° for 20 minutes.   

It’s certainly not a whole food, but it sure does beat packaged food.  Pizza dough in the tube at the store has trans fats.  I checked out Wal-Mart’s French loaf (I used to buy this all the time) and read the label.  It included high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, dough conditioners and depending on the flavor, trans fats as well.  How could I ever have bought that!!!  I used to buy those brown and serve bread sticks until I read that they, too, have trans fats.  I did find a sourdough loaf that included only the ingredients that my loaf includes and is even shaped in a boule like mine.  It was Goldminer California Sourdough for $2.78.  I also checked out Panera online and their plain French loaf is the same.  Unfortunately I can’t say the same for their other products, I found numerous ingredients that I won’t ingest.  So if you can’t bring yourself to try making your own bread, then at least buy one with minimal ingredients.  You can put the loaf in the oven for 10 minutes at 350° to crisp up the crust.  But if your babysteps include getting away from packaged foods, this is a great recipe to start with.  If you are past that point and ready for whole wheat I will post my recipe for whole wheat bread soon.

10 comments:

  1. that's what i'm lookin for girl! i'm not a health nut, and LOVE my bread! i'll let you know if i'm capable of making it! hehehe

    ReplyDelete
  2. [...] partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat).  This is an excellent way to use the leftovers from the Crusty French Loaf.  Cut bread into slices, and then cut the slices into cubes.  In a bowl toss the bread cubes with [...]

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  3. [...] bookmarks tagged french bread Easy Crusty French Bread&nbspsaved by 1 others     wiber312 bookmarked on Sat Dec 22,2007 | [...]

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  4. [...] as a spread (cold or at room temperature) on crackers or fresh-baked French Bread [...]

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  5. [...] his or her own bread.  If you have never made your own bread, a good recipe to practice on is my French Loaf.  Then you can move on to this [...]

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  6. [...] years.  Instead of going out for pizza, make a great tasting one at home.  Make a batch of my French Bread dough, let rise, then roll out on a pizza stone, cover with Marinara and various toppings.  Bake [...]

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  7. [...] any more! Not since I found out about the trans fat! Packaged pizza crust, too. Make your own with my french bread recipe. It’s so very easy and much, much more delicious! Boxed cake mix contains trans fat and [...]

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  8. [...] is so very easy, it can be done in 20 minutes.  This would be great with a grilled cheese on homemade french bread! Serves 4, as a side or lunch [...]

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  9. [...] an adaptation of an Alton Brown recipe.  Mine is different because I just use my ultra-versatile French Bread dough.  But I did follow his directions for boiling and baking.  You can click the link for directions [...]

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  10. Everyone loves it when individuals come together and share views.
    Great blog, keep it up!

    ReplyDelete