March 19, 2011

How to Eat (I Mean Make) Cheap Crusty French Bread in Fifteen Minutes

I've mentioned a few times that I've modified the basic recipe from Judith Fertig's 200 Fast and Easy Artisan Breads (which, if you're new here, is responsible for the 200 (Non-Contiguous Days of Bread Project), but I've never posted the recipe itself.

I promise, I made the recipe just the way the book said to for my first attempt, except I used active dry yeast instead of instant yeast.

Apparently, it's a rule or something that you follow the recipe exactly the first time you make it.


It was too yeasty. And too salty. And after part of the dough spent nine days in the fridge, too funky.

So now I make this instead, and tell myself that it Does Not defeat the purpose of the Project.

Sure, sure.

To Make the Dough:

3 1/4 cups flour (spooned into the measuring cup, with the excess removed with a straight knife)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water (hot enough to feel hot on your finger, but not burn your skin off)
A pinch of white sugar
Some cornmeal. Or not.

Sprinkle the sugar in the water, then add the yeast. Watch it foam. This is supposed to happen.

Mix together the flour and salt in a biggish bowl. You need to use the scoop and slice for the flour method because I'm a bread snob. No, that's not the truth (yes it is). Really, it's the only way to account for variations in flour packed-down-ed-ness. That's a technical term, in case you're wondering.

Pour the foamy yeast into the flour mixture. Mix it together with a wooden spoon until it's mostly combined. There will be some flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Put plastic wrap or a damp tea towel over the bowl and put it in your oven. Turn the oven light on. Leave it alone for two hours.

To Form:

Clearly, I'm no expert at forming. Let me demonstrate:

Remember that? If you still want to follow my advice, flour your hands and make whatever shape you want. If you want a nice long baguette, flatten out the dough into a rough rectangle, roll it up into a tube, and pinch the seam shut. Ideally, bake it with the seam side down.

If you want rolls, cut off roll-sized pieces and form them into balls. I don't care how. They should all be (very roughly) the same shape.

If pizza is what you're after...well, you get the idea.

Once you've expertly crafted the dough into the shape you want, lay it on a cornmeal covered cookie sheet or pizza paddle (see below for help with this agonizing decision). Let it rest for forty minutes or so. Then (if you're making anything but pizza), slash it about a half an inch deep with a serrated knife. I've made the mistake of being gentle and trying to slice my baguettes. It was a spectacular failure. Slash away like you mean it.

To Bake:

If you want to be a purist, don't follow this recipe. Go buy the book already.

Sorry, what I meant to say was: if you want to be a purist, rest your formed dough on a cornmeal covered pizza paddle, then, stick a pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven. At the same time, put a cookie sheet with a rim on the very bottom rack. Turn your oven to 450 degrees, and boil some water in your kettle.

Once the oven is ready, slide your baguette - or whatever - off of the pizza paddle, onto the pizza stone. Pour the boiled water onto the cookie sheet, and close the oven door as fast as you can without getting your arm caught and burning yourself (this obviously never happened to me).

If you're not a purist, or if you try the sliding maneuver the first time with lamentably bad results (like, bread dough in the oven but not on the pizza stone...heh heh), then you can bake your bread on a cookie sheet. I use parchment paper with cornmeal sprinkled over it and it works fine for me. You still want to do the boiling water trick, though, because that's what makes that lovely crispy crust.

You know your bread is done when it looks like the ones you spent $2.49 on at the bakery. Or when your instant-read thermometer reads 190 degrees. Or after 15-20 minutes. Or after you pick the loaf up and it sounds kind of hollow on the bottom when you tap it. 

To Eat:

Stop tapping the bread and eat it already. Preferably slathered in butter. Or dipped, if said butter is melted.