Hearty French Bread

MiscNov 054A tender bread with a crispy-crackly crust, french bread is one of my favorite breads to bake. It’s very simple to make, as long as you’re not in a big hurry. It rises twice before you form the loaves, so although you spend less than a half hour of actual prep time (if you’re using a stand mixer), you’re committed to hanging around for nearly four hours, total.

This is almost identical to my french roll recipe. I just replaced one cup of white flour with one cup of whole wheat flour and dropped the baking temperature just a little, and of course shaped the dough differently.

The trick to getting a nice crust on the loaves is steam. I put a big lasagna pan of water on the bottom rack of my oven and start it preheating while the loaves are rising. This fills the oven with steam, and then the loaves are carefully¬† put in the oven to bake. From experience I can tell you to wear an oven mitt and don’t get your face close to the oven door when you open it up. That steam is HOT!

 

Hearty French Bread
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Ingredients
  • 2½ cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 5 cups white bread flour (regular is okay, too)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Cornmeal
Instructions
  1. In a large mixirollng bowl, stir sugar into warm water and then stir in the yeast. Let sit until bubbly (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add whole wheat flour, 4 cups of white flour and the salt. Beat with electric mixer, using paddles, for 5 minutes.
  3. If you prefer to knead by hand, put the remaining cup of flour on the board and knead for 7-8 minutes. If you have a sturdy stand mixer and prefer to let the machine do the hard work, switch to your dough hook, add the remaining cup of flour, and let it knead for 5 minutes. Your finished dough should be smooth and elastic. If it isn't coming cleanly away from the side of the bowl, add a little more flour.
  4. Place the dough into a large greased bowl. Turn to coat. Cover and let rise until doubled. Depending on room temperature, this could take anywhere from 1-3 hours. (A slow rise makes more flavorful bread, so don't rush it!)
  5. Punch down the dough, turn it over, and let it rise again until doubled, about 1½ hours.
  6. Punch down the dough and divide into two pieces.
  7. Sprinkle cornmeal generously on a large baking sheet.
  8. Shape each piece into a long slender loaf, and place on prepared baking sheet. Cover lightly with a clean dishtowel and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
  9. While the loaves are rising, place a large pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven, and preheat to 425 F.
  10. When the loaves have risen, dust them with flour and, with a very sharp knife or razor blade, cut ¼" deep diagonal slashes along the top of the loaves.
  11. Carefully (it will be HOT) open the oven door and quickly put the loaves in, trying to let as little steam escape as possible.
  12. Bake until rich brown, about 35 minutes, and cool on a rack. Listen to them crackle!

French bread is luscious when it’s warm and fresh, but goes stale fairly quickly. It rarely has the opportunity to get stale at my house, but If this happens I just make french toast, garlic bread, or croutons!

Bread doesn’t get more basic and satisfying than this, and sometimes that’s just what we all need.MiscNov 055