French Bread ~ Baguette & Batard

It’s the time of year when I don’t even bother buying whole wheat flour.  There’s the bread for the Thanksgiving stuffing to make, pie shells, rolls, my son’s birthday cake…  Then comes the Christmas season: sugar cookies, biscotti, a gingerbread house, my German grandmother’s fruit cake which is a delicious pound cake with pecans, candied cherries and pineapples in the batter, my godmother’s Red Velvet Cake and whatever else I have time to get my hands into.  Not only do I need white flour to bake all of these delicacies, but it happens to be dirt cheap around the time that people are buying their turkeys and canned pumpkin.  I stock up and don’t look back until January 2nd, then typically don’t buy another bag until Valentine’s, which stretches till March when I make my other son’s birthday cake.

For my Thanksgiving  sage stuffing, I made French bread.  Fortunately, I didn’t need as much for the stuffing as I thought I would and there were plenty of the hot, crusty loaves laying around ready to be slathered with sweet butter.  Not what my waistline needed at all, but highly appreciated just the same.

Funny that French bread can bring out the German in me.  My mother claims that when she was growing up in Germany, they never ate breakfast.   Around 10 a.m. each morning they would pull out meats and cheeses, bread, butter, jelly, and herring.  That was breakfast and lunch.  Then in the afternoon there was tea and bread with cheese or butter.  With all of this extra white bread around, my cravings for starches has increased.  Frequently, during my Thanksgiving cooking extravaganza, I found myself taking that afternoon carbohydrate plunge with the leftover French bread as my German relatives had probably done earlier in the day.  I’m paying for it too.  My favorite jeans had to be sidelined this weekend in favor of something “more comfortable”.   It’s gonna be a long, and hopefully not too wide, three or four weeks of Holiday fun.  I should feel guilty, but isn’t that what New Year’s Day is all about?  😉

The key to making a crusty loaf of bread is moisture, believe it or not.  By spritzing the loaves immediately after placing them in a very hot oven on a very hot surface, the active yeast reacts quickly to expand the bread.  The shock of the heat and the moisture on the surface of the dough causes it to puff quickly which makes for crispy outside edges and a soft, airy interior of the loaf.  Heaven.

Ingredients:

2 envelopes of yeast

7 c. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. salt

3 c. warm water.  I usually go by the old rule that it is just right if it’s warm running across the inside of my wrist but not so hot that it makes me jump back.  Typically, around 108 degrees.

Water in a spray bottle.

Additional flour for kneading.

Vegetable or olive oil.

Method:

Combine yeast, 2 T of the flour, and 2 c. water.  Stir and leave for at least five minutes, so the yeast will be activated.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together 5 c. flour and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture when it is finished blooming.  Stir in 1 c. warm water.  Mix in 2 more cups of flour, stirring well until the dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl.

Turn onto floured board and begin kneading, adding flour as necessary to form a smooth, elastic dough.

Form the dough into a smooth ball.

Oil a large bowl.  Drop dough into the bowl and turn it to coat all of its surface with the oil.  Cover and let rise for one hour.

Punch dough down and shape on a floured surface.

To shape 4 batard loaves:

Roll one quarter of the dough into a rectangle.

Fold the ends over in thirds.

Repeat.  Roll flat and roll the dough up into the shape of a football.  Repeat with the other portions of dough.  Just before  placing in the oven, make an end to end vertical slit in the dough.

To shape 2 baguettes:

Roll half the dough into a large, long rectangle.  Starting from the long edge, roll the dough up into a log.

Tuck the ends and seal.  Repeat with the second half of risen dough.

Allow the loaves to rise an additional 30 to 40 minutes.  Make horizontal slits in dough just before placing in the oven.

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Set baking stone or sheet pans in the center of the oven.  Place an oven-proof dish of water on a lower rack of the oven.  Close the door and allow the heat and moisture to build inside the oven.  When the oven is heated and the dough has proofed for the second time, quickly open the oven door and place the loaves on the hot stone.  Immediately spritz the surface of the dough with water and close the door.

The loaves take anywhere from 22 to 30 minutes to bake, depending on how dark you would like the surface to brown.  I have an electric oven which makes for a very dry interior, so I spritz the loaves a few more times during the baking process.

Slather with butter and DEVOUR!

Yield: 4 batards or 2 baguettes.  The bread shown was made from a double batch.

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