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Fantastic traditional French bread

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A traditional recipe based on the long-standing French methods of bread baking. Great for loaves, baguettes, or rolls, this dough is very forgiving if you get distracted and have to re-knead for third or even fourth risings.

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Yield: 2 regular loaves, OR 3 long baguettes, OR 24 rolls

Ingredients:
7 cups unbleached white flour
2 Tablespoons yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 ½ cups warm water

Directions:
Mix the yeast, sugar, and water together. Let stand until mixture bubbles, letting you know the yeast has activated.

Mix the oil and salt into the foamy yeast mixture.

Add the flour one cup at a time, beating as the mixture thickens into a dough.

Turn the dough out onto your counter top and knead knead for several minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Set dough aside in an oiled bowl. Turn to coat all of the dough, cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in size.

Forming the dough into loaves or rolls:

  • For regular 9x5 loaves, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to 1/2 inch think, then roll it up into a loaf, pinching the ends and side edges shut.
  • For long baguettes, simply use your hands to roll the dough on the counter top, pulling it to elongate as you go. After placing it on a baking sheet, slash the top diagonally three times to form a lice "split" effect in the finished crust.
  • For rolls, form into balls, then pull the outer edges down and push it into the center on the bottom side of the roll, to obtain a smooth and evenly round top. Elongate into oblong shapes if you prefer. You can either bake them smooth-topped, lightly slash the top to produce a "split" in the crust, or use a pair of scissors to snip the tops crossways to form four points.

Let rise until doubled in size while pre-heating oven to 400 degrees.

Baking times:

  • Regular loaves: bake for 25 minutes and check for doneness. Cool covered to maintain a soft crust.
  • Baguettes: bake for 20 minutes, brushing with plain water twice during baking to form a crisp crust. Cool uncovered.
  • Rolls: bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven, and cool on a towel covered by a towel.

You can brush the bread halfway through its baking with butter, olive oil, beaten egg yolks or whites. Butter will add a richness to the crust, egg yolks impart a golden hue, and egg whites add a soft sheen to very tender, chewy crust. Brushing with plain water will result in a crispier crust.

Feel free to experiment with the shape of loaves that work for you. I enjoy the uniform shape and size of loaves done in a rectangular bread pan, and I also enjoy the rustic look of a round loaf baked freeform on a clay baking stone. I recommend pans that are dark in color, as the shiny aluminum pans can cause a problem with over-browning. When using a stone, remember to pre-heat the stone itself inside your oven and rise your loaves on a separate surface. I like to rise my French loaves on a wooden cutting board sprinkled with a little flour. When the loaves are ready for baking, just sprinkle the stone with a little flour or cornmeal and slide the loaves onto the stone to start their baking time.

With full loaves, when the top crust is golden brown, pick up the loaf (use a towel or hot mitt!) and tap the center of the bottom. The loaf will sound hollow when it is baked through. No matter what the timer may say, if your loaf sounds dull when you tap it, give it a few more minutes and then re-check.

This dough can be stored for a couple of days for later baking. Simply wrap the dough in plastic wrap or put it in a tightly closed plastic bag, then refrigerate. A couple of hours before using, get the dough out and allow it to warm up a bit. Kneading it will add warmth from your hands and help to wake up the yeast. Then just proceed as you would with fresh dough!

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