As I become more and more aware of the “you are what you eat” concept and the idea of budgeting to eat organically (especially when it comes to dairy and things that often contain GMOs – corn, soy, etc.), I find myself wanting to try my hand at making some of the forgotten homemade staples from years ago.
Truth be told, I had a bread maker a few years ago. I LOVED that bread maker. I made loaf after loaf of Italian bread, hearty molasses bread, and other gluten filled treasures. Sadly, that bread maker bit the dust about 18 months ago and I never fixed nor replaced it.
The bread maker was excellent at making low maintenance loaves of bread. It could even be set to make dough for things like French baguettes, whose traditional shape doesn’t exactly fit the confines of a loaf pan.
I love baguettes. I also love Italian loaves that are long and lean, rather than loaf-like. So, given the fact that my bread maker is no more, and I wanted some fresh French bread for a spaghetti dinner, I thought I’d try my hand at making it from scratch – with my own two hands.
I wanted something that didn’t need a day to prepare, or even hours. I wanted to find a recipe that if, on a whim, I wanted French bread for dinner and I had about an hour’s notice, I could make it.
Mmmm…French bread. Next up? Italian bread.
Easy Homemade French Bread
adapted from Crusty French Bread at food.com
I add yeast and sugar to warm-ish water and let it dissolve and “proof” (i.e. get foamy) for about 10 minutes in the bowl of my KitchenAid Mixer. The yeast never really gets foamy like it’s supposed to, but still seems to work the way it should.
After the 10 minutes is up, I add salt, olive oil and most of the flour to the mixer bowl, and then use a dough hook to mix it up for a couple of minutes. Then I add the last of the flour, let the dough hook do its work for a little while longer, and then turned the stiff dough out onto my floured counter.
I knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes, added a little flour if the dough gets sticky along the way – it’s a work out!
After making the kneaded dough into a satisfying, smooth round, I coat it with more olive oil and then set it into a large bowl (covered with a towel in my oven) to rise until it has doubled, about 15 minutes. Then, I pulled the dough out, punched it down, and divided it into two parts.
Each part was rolled and pressed into a squarish/rectangular shape about 1/4″ thick, and then rolled up lengthwise – kind of on the diagonal – to make 2 baguettes. These were placed on nonstick sheets coated with cornmeal on baking pans and left to rise for 30 minutes in a warm, undrafty place (again, my oven).
After it’s finished rising, it looks like this – and then you have have to make slits on top with a really sharp knife:
Then they get baked in a really hot oven (450°F!) for about 30 minutes – but you’ll want to start checking them at about 20 minutes in case one starts browning before the other.
Also, I set a metal baking pan with about 1″ of water in the bottom of the oven to help create steam. The moisture is what makes for a crispier crust on the outside of the loaves.
And, ta-da! Not bad for a first attempt!
They went perfectly with my spaghetti.
- 5-1/2 cups Bread Flour
- 2 cups Warm Water (about 140°F)
- 1 tablespoon Yeast ((one packet))
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil ((plus a little extra for the rise))
- 1 tablespoon Sugar
- ½ cup Cornmeal
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar in warm water - around 100°F, and then let it proof (sit) for about 10 minutes.
- Add the salt, oil and 3 cups of flour and then mix it for 2 minutes with a dough hook in a KitchenAid (or similar) mixer.
- Add the 2 remaining cups of flour, and continue mixing for about 30 seconds - the dough will be very stiff. Dump it out onto a floured counter.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding a little flour as you go if the dough gets too sticky.
- Round the dough off into a large ball, coat it in olive oil, and then set it to rise, covered in a large bowl, somewhere warm and undrafty (I use my oven - turned off, but with the light on).
- Once it's doubled in size (about 15-30 minutes), punch the dough down and split it into 2 halves. Roll and press each half into a rectangle shape and then roll them lengthwise to make 2 baguettes.
- Place each baguette on a cornmeal coated baking sheet, and let them rise again in a warm, undrafty place for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F and place a metal pan with about 1" of water on the bottom of the oven. The steam from the hot water will help to make a crustier exterior on your French bread.
- Use a very sharp knife to make 3 diagonal slits on top of each loaf, and then bake them for 30 minutes in the top ⅓ of your oven. You'll want to check the loaves around 20 minutes to make sure the upper loaf isn't browning too quickly - if it is, just switch the racks.