Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's Bread Time

Between the February issue of Gourmet, with its gorgeous cover image of plump, golden rolls; and the graphic novel I just finished reading, about a Japanese kid who just wants to bake bread (making him an outcast in his family of rice eaters), I've had bread on my mind lately. And when the weather turned nasty last night, with snow, sleet and rain predicted, it was decided: I was baking bread.

I got this recipe from my cousin Kathy, a master breadmaker, and had tried it twice before. The first time was a bust; I used yeast that had expired two weeks earlier, which turned out to be a very poor decision. The dough never rose, and I wound up tossing it, sadly. The second time was quite good, and I'd say this most recent batch was even better. It's a Classic French Bread, but instead of shaping it into baguettes (baby steps!), I make it into a "country French loaf," which is a nicer way of saying "ball." As with most breads (I think?) patience is the primary ingredient; there are two risings with this recipe, each one about an hour and a half. So if you want bread for dinner, you should start making this around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Also, a stand mixer makes things much easier. And no, I don't feel like I'm cheating when I attach the dough hook and flip the switch.

The recipe has you brush the dough with melted butter and salt before you bake it, which is a nice touch that not only spiffs up the finish product with a warm glow, but gives it a gentle salty flavor. If you're wary about baking bread, this is a terrific starter recipe, one that I plan on sticking with for a long time. Thanks, Kath!--S

Classic French Bread

1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 envelope dry yeast
1 T sugar
1 t salt
1/2 t balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 c bread flour
3/4 c (about) all-purpose flour
1/2 stick unsalted butter 1
1/4 t salt

1. Pour 1 cup warm water into bowl of heavy-duty electric mixer. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over; stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Mix salt and vinegar into yeast. Add bread flour; using paddle attachment, mix 5 miutes. Replace paddle with dough hook. Add 1/2 c all-purpose flour and knead until soft and slightly sticky dough forms, adding more all purpose flour if dough is very sticky, about 7 minutes.
3. Coat large bowl with 2 T oil. Add dough, turning to coat entire surface. Cover bowl with plastic-wrap. Let dough rise in warm, draft-free area until tripled in volume, about 1 1/2 hrs. (To test, press 2 fingers into dough; if fully risen, indentations will remain. If indentations fill in, cover with plastic and let dough rise longer.)
4. Melt butter with salt in saucepan. Keep glaze warm.
5. Oil or butter baking sheet. Punch down dough. Form dough into round ball, smoothing top. Place on baking sheet, flattening slightly. Brush with butter glaze and let rise until tripled in volume as above.
6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slash dough in tic-tac-toe pattern or with swirled slashes radiating from center. Bake until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Cool on rack.

Recipe courtesy of The Bon Appetit Cookbook

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Hey, my pleasure. This is my never-fail go-to recipe. Sometimes I add a handful of fresh rosemary. Yum!