French Style Bread

Have I mentioned that I love bread? I used to love going down the bread aisle in the grocery store when I was younger. Squeezing the loaves to see which was best (before I realized the twist tie color was associated with the delivery day). Some things never change. The smell of yeast still moves me in a way, and there is really no other aroma that can compete. I don’t buy bread from the grocery store anymore – you won’t believe how many breads contain high fructose corn syrup and other random unnecessary ingredients. With an urge for health and saving money, we have turned to the bread machine for most of our bread needs. (Grace Baking Co and Acme Bread are our staples when we don’t have any on hand).

The bread machine can’t make this loaf though – too big. The first time I had this bread was in college at my in laws house. My father in law has made it famous among his family and really anyone else who tries it. I made it once in college and had not tried until possibly four years later. I have made it twice now in the past few months with different results. The hardest part about bread making is consistency – in the dough itself and the outcome. There are a lot of variables – like kneading time, rising time, active yeast or dead yeast that contribute to the end result. I think Harvard has about 20 years on me, but I’m willing to put in the time to try and master it. Maybe he will give me a lesson when we see them again…. Anyways, the recipe is great and I welcome you to try it. Ingredients are simple, technique learned.

The recipe comes from a great book I recently bought, Beard On Bread by James Beard. The contents are 100 of his favorite recipes that range from yeast breads to rolls, doughnuts, and quick breads. There are a lot of ethnic flatbread and free-form loaves I would like to try. My new goal will be to post a bread once a month. With all of this practice I may be ready for a bread-off against my father in law during Christmas!

Recipe: French Style Bread
Yields 2 Loaves

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1 T sugar
2 C warm water (110-115*)
1 T salt
5-6 C flour
3 T yellow cornmeal
1 T egg white mixed with 1 T cold water

Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix salt with flour and add to the yeast 1 C at a time until you have a stiff dough. Remove to a lightly fkloured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 mins, adding flour as necessary. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Punch down the dough. Turn out onto a floured board and shape into two long french style loaves. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal but not buttered. Slash the tops of the loaves diagonally in two or three places (you can also slash serving sized pieces) and brush with the egg wash. Place in a cold oven and set the temperature to 400*. Bake 35 minutes, or until well browned and hollow sounding when the tops are rapped.

The bread is best just after it comes out of the oven, but since it makes two loaves I like to freeze one for later. It freezes well and you can warm it directly in the oven from the freezer. Just set it on a fairly low temperature and warm until middle is hot. You may want to keep the bread wrapped in foil to prevent further browning. Enjoy!


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