First off, I apologize for the crappy lighting in my kitchen.
So, I got some requests to share this recipe. It’s extremely easy and really, really good. Easiest homemade French Bread ever.
I come across and lot of bread recipes, and to be honest, I’m never completely happy with them. I always have to edit them to make them my own. This is one such recipe that I have changed. It’s by far one of the best and I will probably put it down in my recipe book (which is quite the honor I might add). Most recipes are really vague and don’t show you what “proofing” looks like or “rising”, so I’m trying to picture everything. Just in case there is someone out there who is starting from nothing like I did.
Let’s get cookin’!!
Here’s What You’ll Need: (makes 2 loaves)
-4 1/2-6 Cups Bread Flour
-2 1/4 Cups Warm Water
-1 Tbs. Active Dry Yeast
-1 Tbs. Sugar
-1 Tbs. Salt
-Olive Oil for non-stick purposes
-Egg whites, butter, or olive oil for brushing on top of the loaves. Totally your choice.
-Seasonings of your choice as a topping
**You can even knead garlic, or cheese into the bread later.
1) Alright, here is the most important step. Get your warm water. Warm is a relative term, but the water should be comfortably warm and not hot. If you are a naturally cold person, then best be cautious and use a thermometer or just use slightly hotter water. To this water you will add your 1 Tbs. of yeast and 1 Tbs. of sugar. Whisk these in with a fork and let is sit, in a warm place, for 10 minutes to proof.
Post Proof. If your water is all foamy on top like this, then the yeast is good to go. If not, you need to adjust your water temp and try again. Always make sure your yeast isn’t expired! (keep it in the fridge door, it lasts longer)
2) Add your 1 Tbs. of salt and 3 Cups of the Bread Flour and mix in with a wooden spoon. Get it nice and incorporated into there, it will make it easier to knead later.
** Side note: USE BREAD FLOUR. Not all purpose, not wheat, and especially not gluten-free whatever, BREAD FLOUR. Bread flour is an unbleached flour that contains a lot of gluten. Unless you have celiac disease, gluten is not bad for you in any way. These gluten proteins will work themselves together and create a web, making your dough stronger, stretchable, and fluffier. Gluten is good. Repeat that with me, Gluten is good.
3) Back to business. Once you have all the flour incorporated, it should be very gooey and look like the picture above. At this point, set your oven to it’s lowest setting (mine is 170) and let it warm up. This will be handy later for rising.
Add another cup of flour and work it in with the spoon. You’ll notice this is considerably more difficult. At this point I will abandon the spoon and bowl method, take of my ring, and do it by hand.
4) Turn your dough out onto the counter and start working flour in, 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time. This is where the recipe gets adjusted. Because I used a little too much water for this loaf, I needed almost 6 Cups of flour, but you may have been a little light handed, so you may only need 5 Cups like I did the last time I made this. Either way is fine. While you are kneading in this extra flour, you are looking for a slightly tacky, but not gooey, consistency. You want it to be moist, nothing is worse than super dry bread.
5) Knead, knead, knead, but not too much. I used to work in a pizza shop where we made our dough from scratch, so this comes easily to me. You should be kneading for about 5-10 minutes. You will know when your dough is done when you press a finger into it and the dough bounces back almost all the way. You can’t see my three thumbprints in this dough can you?? Case and point. It’s ready.
6) Add 1 Tbs. or so of Olive Oil to a large bowl and place your dough in it. Flip it and swirl it around to get a nice covering (this is so the dough doesn’t stick to the bowl).
Remember that oven you put on low a few minutes ago? Turn it off. This is important, TURN IT OFF. Put a damp towel over your bread (after I wash the dough from my hands, I dry them on a clean towel and use it for this), place the bowl/dough combo in the oven and set a timer for 1 hour for it to rise. The dough should more than double in size, so make sure you have it on a low enough rack so it doesn’t press up into the top of your oven.
This rising method is my trick, we usually keep our apartment pretty cool, so I don’t have a “warm place” to rise dough in. I just use my oven.
Now, go find something to do for an hour. A “pot watched never boils” or in this case, “stalked bread never rises”. Go read a book, my blog, something, but don’t drive yourself crazy watching a lump of dough get bigger.
Alright, it’s been an hour. Let’s see what happened.
Hey look! It got a TON bigger! Awesome. Now, you take that dough and just punch the snot out of it. No really, go ahead, it deserves it.
7) Turn the dough out onto the table and cut it in half (to make 2 loaves). This bread knife is actually the bottom of a metal cheese grater, works the same, so I don’t care.
At this point you may just shape the loaves (give them a small kneading first), put them on a cookie sheet, and skip ahead to baking. Or you can stick around and make fancy bread, it doesn’t take more than an extra 5 minutes.
Now, I’m going to get fancy on you. I’m going to show you a basket-weave loaf. Cut one half of the dough into 5 equal pieces. As shown above. (that big one in the back is the other half of the dough)
Roll these 5 pieces into 2ft-ish ropes. Nothing fancy. They don’t have to be perfectly even, it takes time to get to that point. As you can see, mine are lumpy.
Connect all 5 pieces at one end, you can even stick them to the counter if that helps. Take the coil all the way to the right and weave it through the others. Over, Under, Over, Under. And set it on the far left where it now stays.
Now take the new coil on the far right and do the same thing. Over, Under, Over, Under. You will have the shift the coils around as your weave to give yourself enough space. Start at the right, Over, Under, Over, Under, it’s super simple.
When you get to the end (weave as far as you can), tuck the ends under the loaf and VIOLA! So elegant and super easy to do. This pattern alone will impress everyone you know. Seriously. 5 extra minutes and you’ll be getting compliments all night. Also, because of the weave, this loaf makes a great “tear-away” loaf, no knife needed.
You could keep it a bit more simple and do a traditional braid. Cut 3 equal pieces, roll them into 2ft-ish coils, and braid them like you would hair. Right to center, left to center, right to center, left to center. Super easy and it looks nice.
See? Not bad.
8) Now, put your loaves on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. As you can see, I ran out of parchment paper, so I just sprayed the cookie sheet under the other loaf.
9) At this point you will season your loaves. I brushed olive oil on the left one, then covered it in Cajun Seasoning with a bit of salt. Spice-Loaf would be it’s 90’s pop-star name. On the left (the basket-weave loaf) I brushed on butter, cracked pepper and fresh shredded colby-jack cheese. I’m really looking forward to eating that one in particular.
10) Cover your loaves with a towel and let them rise for an additional 30-35 minutes.
11) Look how much bigger they got!! Now that the loaves have risen, pop them into a 400º oven for 25-30 minutes. Be careful not to shake them or slam them down, it will “pop” the loaf, causing flat-bread. Tell the kids to not stomp around, because if you make my bread fall, so help me god! (my mother’s favorite, although she used a bread machine and instant mixes…yuck). Tiptoe out of the kitchen and wait.
There is some debate over using steam to make bread. Personally, I have yet to notice a difference….but people say steam is important, so I throw 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of water on the floor of my oven during the baking, twice. Once at the beginning and at the 10-minutes-to-go mark. Some people say a metal bowl with hot water works, but it must be boiling hot or it will never start to steam during the baking.
12) Enjoy your bread! It should have a nice brown crust on it and it will have that nice french bread texture inside.
I know this is a long post, but once you make the bread once, you pretty much memorize the entire thing. It’s super delicious and really easy to make. I wanted to make sure every single step had a picture so there was no confusion! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Please comment with your pictures and experience in making this bread! I want to know! Also, let me know if you want to see more posts like this!
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