I've been asked enough times for a good simple bread recipe that here, just as a teaser for the recipe book, is Fr. Frog's recipe for French Bread. This recipe is not part of the Fr. Cooky archives and thus it does not include the usual entertaining story along with the recipe.. It is however, regularly made by Fr. Frog and shared with his good friends when they break bread together.
Yields 2 or more large baguettes (depending on your pan size and or desire) or you can cut things in half for a single loaf. I do this in a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook but you can do it the old fashion way or use your bread machine on the mix only cycle. Note that the exact amount of water needed in the recipe may vary with the humidity and how you measure your flour. A "cup" of flour weighs 4 ounces. One variation on the recipe that some folks like is to use a 50/50 mix of milk and water instead of water alone.
Gather together the following ingredients.
1½ cups warmed (about 105-110 °F) spring water or bottled water. (The chlorine in tap water inhibits the yeast.)
2½ tsp active dry yeast (If you use "instant" yeast don't pre-mix it with the water--add it to the dry ingredients and use 120-130 degree water.)
3¾ cups bread flour (Best results obtained with King Arthur brand unbleached flour.)
1-1½ tsp salt
¼ tsp Ascorbic Acid (Optional but helps the yeast rise and helps make a crusty crust and a light inside.)
3 Tbs dough relaxer (optional--Laura Brady's Dough Relaxer from King Arthur Flour makes a slightly lighter bread)
1 pound of butter (Set aside to soften--you're gonna need it when the bread is done.)
Cornmeal (about a 2 tablespoons)
Warm the bowl of the mixer by filling with hot tap water for a few minutes. Dump out the bowl warming water and pour in about 1¼ cups, or a little more, of the spring water and add the yeast. Stir using the dough hook for a couple of seconds and then stop. Let sit for about 10 minutes to proof the yeast. (If your yeast is a little tired you can add a pinch of sugar to feed it.)
Mix the flour, ascorbic acid, and salt together, and add the mixture to the water, and then knead on "2" for 2 to 5 minutes until the dough is silky. You want a slack (soft) dough without being runny or too sticky so you may need to add a little extra water or flour (a little bit at a time) depending on the humidity.
At the end of the kneading carefully remove the dough from the mixer. I also usually kneed it by hand for a minute or so after removing from the mixer just to add some manual labor and the form it into a ball. (Note: If you drop it you'll be sorry--it's a real mess to clean up.) Place ball in a warm and greased bowl and then turn the dough ball over so the greased side is up, cover with a moist towel and allow to rise until at least doubled in a warm (80 - 85 degree) place. The rising can take from 45 to 90 minutes so quietly check often and don't let it over rise. Some folks like to use a damp towel to cover the dough.
When the dough has doubled carefully dump the dough ball out on a floured surface. Using a serrated knife or a dough blade cut the dough ball in half. You can then do any of the following to shape it:
If the dough is not too slack you can simply shape each piece into a ball, for a round loaf, and place on a lightly greased baking sheet sprinkled with some corn meal; or
Shape each piece into a long round loaf, and place on a on a lightly greased baking sheet sprinkled with some corn meal or in your baguette pan; or
Gently flatten each half into a piece about 13" long and about 5" wide and then loosely roll up each piece into a baguette, tucking the ends under and place on a on a lightly greased baking sheet sprinkled with some corn meal or in your baguette pan. (I prefer this method.)
If you like seeds on the top of your bread, lightly brush the tops of the loaves with water and then roll the tops of the loaves in your favorite seed mix--I like caraway seed on mine-- before placing on the baking sheet. Slit the tops of the loaves several times on the diagonal with an oiled sharp serrated knife or razor blade (going about ¼" deep) and then cover and let the loaves rise again until doubled (about 90 minutes).
About 20 minutes before the end of the second rising period, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. (Yes, five hundred!)
When the rise is finished, spray the loaves with a mist of warm water. Pop them into the oven and every 3 or 4 minutes spray several mists of water into the over or simply toss a half dozen ice cubes the oven floor. In about 10 minutes or when the crust just barely starts to brown, lower the temperature to 425 degrees and bake until golden brown. If using a baguette pan or a baking sheet you may want to dump the loaves out of the pan and onto the oven rack for the last 10 minutes or so to allow the bottoms to brown a bit more.
When done, remove from the oven to a cooling rack, count to 10 (slowly) or let it cool for about 10 minutes, cut the bread (or better yet just break it in the traditional manner), spread on gobs of butter or seasoned quality olive oil and enjoy. (It is also quite good with a slice of jack cheese, and a glass of red wine goes nicely with either method of consumption. Due to the fact that there are no sugars or oils used this bread is best eaten the day it is made as it dries out quickly. It probably won't last very long anyway once it comes out of the oven!) I have it on good authority that for those of you who worry about fats and cholesterol (poor souls) that this bread deactivates them in any butter or cheese co-consumed. To get an even crispier crust you can simply allow the bread to cool in the oven with the door open part way.
If you like "seeds" in your bread you can add a tablespoon or so of any seed mixture you like to the dough while mixing. King Arthur Flour has some good blends. You can visit them at http://www.kingarthurflour.com .
...and some bonuses....
Click here for a traditional baguette recipe. More work but really worth it.
Click here for Fr. Frog's pizza dough recipe.
Click here for Fr. Frog's Popover recipe.
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