Thursday, October 20, 2011

French-Style Bread

Not too long ago, my roommate told me she wanted to make a creamy Italian dish with garlic, artichoke, and pasta. With it, she wanted garlic bread.

"I'll stop by the co-op and pick some up. Monday night sound okay for Italian?"
"Sure," I replied. A couple days later, on Sunday, at work, I was talking with co-workers about baking when I was struck by the urge to make bread. A gluten-free bread for me and regular bread for E.

When I got home that evening, I asked E if she would be okay with homemade bread instead, and when she said yes, I made sure she didn't mind me using her flour.

The next morning, I started to work making bread. I had a guest in town who sat companionably at the kitchen table, on the computer, while I flipped through my Beard on Bread cookbook (inherited from my grandmother) looking for a simple bread recipe for E's bread. I settled on the French-style bread because it seemed straight-forward, and as far as yeasted glutinous (non-overnight/no-knead, I might add) breads go, not too time-intensive.

All seemed to go well at first. The dough mixed up nicely and smoothed into supple elastic under my hands. It rose beautifully. And then I couldn't get it to shape into logs quite the way I wanted it to. Okay, I told myself, so it won't be beautiful. That's okay. So I baked it and it turned crispy on the outside like a good French loaf should. Except it seemed almost tough on the bottom. Okay, too. I've had otherwise perfectly good French loaves that are tough to slice (and on which the bottom crust is hard to chew). But when I sliced it, it didn't have those lovely holes French bread seems to have. And it wasn't chewy like baguettes and French loaves often are.

Hm. I went back to the cookbook, thinking maybe I'd missed a rising (there isn't one after you create the free-form loaf). Nope. Okay. I read the front of the book where Beard troubleshoots. No answer. I went to the folks at The Fresh Loaf and re-read (for the upteenth time) their primer on bread-making. Nothing relevant. The problem, I think was how wet (or, in this case dry) my bread dough was. To make a free-form loaf, you need fairly firm dough otherwise it spreads out the way you'd expect from ciabatta. However, these firm loaves weigh more and provide less opportunity for the little yeasties to make big bubbles. Figuring out how to do this with a French style bread will be a project for another day--perhaps after I've quizzed Jake, one of the bakers assistants at a local bakery co-op.

Okay, so from what I understand the bread didn't taste bad--I didn't actually get much feedback from E or my guest on how it tasted at all. Therefore, I conclude it wasn't anything to write home about either. But, that's kinda what I expected from a basic loaf (really basic, look at these ingredients) that was created with the purpose of being turned into garlic bread. It's a little denser than I might like it to be, but on the other hand, it doesn't have those irritating (though I love them) holes that things fall through.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal (I didn't have this and substituted garbanzo bean flour, which got dark but served the same purpose)
1 tablespoon egg white, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water (so you don't cook the egg!)

Combine the yeast with sugar and water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix the salt with the flour and add to the proofed yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough. Remove to a lightly floured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to coat the surface with butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Turn out on a floured board and shape into two long, French bread-style leaves. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal, but not buttered. Slash the tops of the loaves diagonally in 2 or 3 places and brush with the egg wash. Place in a cold oven, set the temperature at 400 degrees, and bake 35 minutes or until browned and hollow sounding when tapped.

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