Hooray! Life is good. Not only do I have my replacement camera, but I also have my replacement laptop which means, that I can actually do something with my pictures after I take them.
I have been on a dead run for the past few weeks, so I promised myself I would take some time to do chill out today and do a few of the things I love most, cook, bake , take pictures and do laundry. Oh wait a minute, scratch the laundry part, I HAVE to do the laundry if any of us wants anything to wear next week.
A few years ago I went on a bread baking kick and I was determined to learn how to make a good loaf of bread. What I had in mind was a cross between a rustic and French bread. I love a good loaf of rustic artisan style bread, but quite frankly with my schedule I rarely can plan ahead enough to get the starter going a day or so ahead of time for the results I want. I also love French bread but sometimes, I am just lazy and don’t like to put the effort into forming baguettes so I have come up with this hybrid which suits me and my family perfectly. I have taken a basic French Bread recipe from Julia Child and adapted it a bit for my own purposes which results in a slightly chewier texture than regular French Bread and is very adaptable. I usually just make one or two free form loaves and cook them on my baking stone. It is delicious slightly warm with sweet butter, makes perfect toast, but for today’s purposes will accompany my Spaghetti Alla Amatriciana. I will post the meatball & spaghetti recipe tomorrow, but you can get your appetite started with this easy Rustic French Bread.
Rustic Style French Bread
- 5 cups King Arthur Bread Flour (or all purpose if that is what you have on hand)
- 2 cups cool water
- 2 ¼ teaspoons SAF Instant Yeast (don’t compromise here)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons Kosher Salt
In a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour and then the water. At a low speed, mix the flour and water until just combined, about 1 minute. Don’t worry if there is a little bit of dry flour at the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the flour absorb the water for about 15 minutes. This is called the autolyse or hydration period. This is an important step and one which should not be skipped.
Turn the mixer speed to slow- medium and slowly sprinkle in the yeast and continue mixing until it has been completely incorporated, approximately 2 minutes. At this time, sprinkle in the salt using the same method and then turn the speed up to medium and mix for about 5 minutes. Dough should be smooth and elastic and completely clean the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Turn out onto lightly floured board and pull into tight ball and cover with lightly floured towel and let rest for about 15 minute which allows the gluten to relax.
TIP: If you plan on making bread more than once, I recommend buying a couple of linen towels that are your dedicated bread towels. Work some flour into these towels and use them to cover the bread while rising. Do not wash, but simply shake out any excess flour when done and let dry completely before storing.
Uncover the bread and punch or slap in down. Using both hands stretch the dough out and then fold it back up. Repeat in opposite direction and then reform into tight ball and recover with floured towel.
TIP: Using a “rising box” will help tremendously with the rising process by providing a draft-free,slightly moist environment for the dough to rise. I read about these when I was on my bread kick and improvised by using a Rubbermaid storage bin which worked perfectly. I still use this same bin and when it is not acting as a rising box, I use it to store my towels & baskets.
You can either let this rise without any further action for about 1 ½ hours to 3 hours until doubled in size or to further develop the texture, you can repeat the slapping and stretching process 1 -2 more times, letting it rest for about 15 minutes each time.
Once the dough has doubled, you are ready to shape it. Since this is a softer dough, it doesn’t lend itself well to a huge loaf so I generally end up making two round loaves or Boules. This explanation is for shaping and baking this style of loaf, but you can certainly experiment with baguettes, batards or even rolls.
This is the time to start pre-heating your oven to 450 degrees. Place your baking stone or tiles in the oven now. Not only does the oven need time to heat, but your stone should be completely heated through as well. I use tiles which are set into a baking tray because I like the size of it and usually cook two loaves at one time.
Divide the dough in half, weighing it if you have a food scale to make sure it is evenly divided. Form each piece into a tight ball, cover and let rest for about 15 minutes, again to relax the gluten. Pull, stretch and reform into tight ball, using your hands to turn and smooth the dough and pulling it in tight into the bottom. Place each boule on a well floured linen towel pulling up the towel a bit to work a barrier betwen the two loaves and then cover with floured towel and enclose everything with your rising box. Allow to rise until at least doubled in size, approx. 1 1/2 hours, but make take longer depending on temperature, be patient. You can tell that the dough is ready to cook, when the dough springs back when gently prodded with your finger.
Gently slide your lightly floured baker’s peel under the first batard. Now prior to baking you will need to slash the top of your dough. For a round loaf, I usually cut a starburst pattern, although you can do whatever you like. The key is to do it fast and not to pull the dough. It is necessary to slash the dough to allow it to fully rise.
TIP: Although you can slash your dough with a sharp knife, the best method is to use a straight razor blade as it is super sharp and cuts cleanly through the dough without pulling.
Gently slide the slashed boule onto the baking stone in the oven. Repeat with the second loaf. Immediately spray the inside of the oven with a water bottle to create a steamy environment which will help develop the crust. Spray the inside of the oven 2 -3 more times in the first 5 minutes (spray walls of oven, not directly onto dough). Cook for 20 minutes until bread is golden brown and crusty. Bread should sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to wire rack and let cool at least one hour before slicing. Bread will “snap crackle and pop” while it is cooling which tells you that it is cooked perfectly and is going to taste fabulous!