It’s Bread: Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter

My Christmas presents included a wonderful baguette baker and the smell of baking bread is a delightful one during the (now) cold, winter months. Late last year, I bought a cookbook for making dough in a bread machine, so I thought I’d marry the two in one convenient experiment.

I can do French bread. Now, let me be absolutely clear on this point. I took a baking class in culinary school. We spent weeks and weeks on bread. Over the course of the class, I probably made French bread a dozen times. Each loaf came out better than the last one. I can do French bread.

Now, for the lessons I learned here:

  1. Machines make our lives easier, but they are not a substitute for human beings. (I’m looking at you, bread machine.)
  2. If you think that the recipe sounds wrong when you read it or feels wrong when you make it, the recipe is probably wrong.
  3. Combinations of flour, yeast, and water will make bread. Will it be tasty or what you expected? Maybe not. But, it’s still bread.

This recipe came from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Bread Machine Baking. I will go back; just not for this one.

French Bread

  • 1⅓ C water
  • 4 C unbleached white bread flour
  • 1½ t salt
  • 1½ t rapid-rise active dry yeast

Add the water to the bread machine pan. If the instructions for your machine specify that the yeast is to be placed in the pan first, simply reverse the order in which you add the liquid and dry ingredients to the pan.

Sprinkle the flour over, to cover the water. Add the salt in a corner. Make an indentation in the center of the flour and add yeast. Use the French bread setting. Press start. (And, here’s where the problems started. I had a dough setting and a French bread setting. I used the French setting, but might have taken it out to soon or maybe I should have used the dough setting. I have no clue.)

When the dough cycle has finished remove the dough from the machine, place it on a lightly floured surface and punch it down. Divide it into two or three equal portions. (I did three and had two even-ish loaves and one rather small one.)

On a floured surface shape each piece of dough into a ball, then roll out to a rectangle measuring 7-8”x3”. Fold one-third up lengthwise and one-third down, then press. Repeat twice more, letting the dough rest between folding to avoid tearing. (Why are we folding so much? This is going to create a very tough dough. The less you handle bread dough the better.)

Gently roll and stretch each piece to an 11-13” loaf, depending on whether you aim to make smaller or larger loaves. (Rolling is OK, but no pinching to finish off the ends? No tucking under to make sure everything secure?) Place each loaf in a floured banneton or between the folds of a floured and pleated dish towel, so that the French bread shape is maintained during rising. (I don’t have a banneton, so I used my baguette pan.)

Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 450°F.

Roll the loaf or loaves on to a baking sheet, spacing them well apart. (Again, I baked them in my baguette pan.) Slash the tops several times with a sharp knife. Place at the top of the oven (hang on, no egg wash or water wash on top?), spray the inside with water and bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden. (That is sooo not enough steam to get the crispy crust. You should have steam for the first bit and then no steam for the second part of baking.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Results

Anemic, slightly phallic looking bread. The over kneading really wrecked some havoc on the dough. Although I pinched the ends together and slashed the top, they still went every which a way while baking.

Sad French Bread

Now, as I mentioned above, even an epic failure of this proportion still comes out bread. And, for people who don’t know any better….

Baby eating bread

… bread is really, really good.

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