Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes
and home-made bread - there may be.
- David Grayson
Even as I have warm, oven-fresh bread practically at my fingertips whenever I like, baked daily at the boulangerie a mere two-minute walk from my home, I still yearn to pull a homemade loaf from my own oven. I love the measuring of ingredients, the cups, the poofs of flour, the yeast fizzling and foaming in a few inches of warm water, the rhythmic movements of kneading, the graceful shaping into rounds, lengths or braids, carefully brushing each loaf with egg wash and dusting the tops with sesame seeds or coarse salt. I press my nose to the warm oven door and watch with bated breath as the loaves rise and color, waiting for the moment when the kitchen, my home is filled with the scent of fresh bread.
One doesn't have to live in France to have warm, oven-fresh loaves at the snap (or almost) of the fingers. I came across this recipe on my friend Jennifer's blog Milk and Honey under the title Fast and Fabulous French Bread. I could see that it was fabulous, but fast? To get loaves that gorgeous, plump and golden? I perused the recipe and it seemed quite direct and, yes, fast and easy but seeing is believing. With half a baguette still sitting on the kitchen counter from lunch, I made the decision to go ahead with the experiment. I was in the mood to bake…. And I knew that my men would most likely be happier seeing beautiful brioche-type loaves than more cake.
I have always highly esteemed the brave and humble workers who labor all night to produce those soft but crusty loaves that look more like cake than bread.
- Alexandre Dumas
I made, I baked, I conquered. Well, I was conquered. It was fast. It was easy. And it was fabulous! There was no fiddling or guessing, no waiting (or so little it isn't even worth counting) and the loaves rose so beautifully in the oven as I watched, nose pressed against the window. Yes, one must hover around the oven, not stray too far as the temperature is changed twice and the minutes counted. I allowed the bread to cool to warm and then I sliced. The bread was perfectly risen and baked through. The texture, crumb and flavor were very brioche like, wonderful and soft, perfect to accompany a meal, great for breakfast or snack with either savory or sweet spreads.
I served one loaf for dinner, froze a second loaf and the third was offered to Marty's surgeon!
This is a recipe I will be making over and over again.
I will be sharing this Fast and Fabulous French Bread with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting!
If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat,
the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.
– Fernand Point
FAST AND FABULOUS FRENCH BREAD
Makes 3 loaves
Visit Jennifer's blog Milk and Honey for instructions to prepare the loaves using a stand mixer; I have prepared mine by hand.
1/3 cup (80 ml) warm water
1 Tbs (10 g) dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs (15 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
1 cup (250 ml) cold water
5 - 6 cups "00" flour (I used regular French flour)
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 175°F (80°C). (*Yes, that's 175°F/80°C not 350°F/180°C. The low starting temperature gives the bread a little rising before you hit it with the heat). Spray a large baking tray with cooking oil spray (or line with parchment) and set aside.
Place the dry yeast in a small bowl and pour the 1/3 cup of warm water slowly over it. Mix gently with a fork and set aside for 5 minutes.
Place the sugar, salt and butter into a large mixing bowl. Pour over the boiling water and stir until the butter has melted. Add the cold water and stir. Add the yeast mixture and stir again to blend.
Add half the flour to the bowl and stir, using a wooden spoon, until the dry is incorporated into the wet. Then add enough of the remaining flour until a soft dough forms – I added and stirred in 5 cups of the flour using the 6th cup to flour the work surface and dough was I kneaded by hand, thus incorporating the last cup little by little until the dough was soft, supple, elastic and no longer stuck to either the work surface or the cutting board. Knead this way, adding in the last cup of flour gradually, for about 6 minutes. Leave the dough to rest for 5 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto the prepared baking tray and divide it into three equal portions. Let the dough rest for another 5 minutes.
Using your fingertips, spread each portion of dough out into a rectangle. Roll them up like a Swiss roll length ways and then tucks the two ends underneath. Place each rolled loaf on the baking sheet seam side down and gently even out the "log" or loaf.
Spray a sharp knife with cooking oil spray (or rub with vegetable or olive oil) and make three deepish, diagonal slashes into the tops of each loaf (mine were not really deep enough – look at Jennifer's).
Brush with the beaten egg and bake at 175°F (80°C) for 15 minutes (*See note above). After 15 minutes, increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C) and bake for a further 15 - 20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 350°F (180°C) and bake for a further 10 - 15 minutes or until the tops are golden, the bottom of the loaves are colored and the bread sound hollow when knocked.
Transfer the loaves to a wire rack to cool (a little) before slicing.