When I say “simple” French bread you have to understand that bread is not hard, per se, to make. Continuing along the easy-but-time-consuming road I’ve been cooking along lately, bread is easy, but takes a good day to make. Cold grey Saturdays in February are pretty much perfect for this.
My grandfather used to make bread on a regular basis. Not being a morning person, I never understood why he wanted to get up at 5:30 AM to start making bread. I get it now. It’s fun and so rewarding. (Not to mention the warm yeasty smell makes your house/apartment smell cozy and delicious.) While I did not get up before dawn to start this bread it did take me most of the day.
I had researched for a few days reading multiple food blogs and cookbooks trying to find a relatively easy bread recipe to try. No sense in picking a complicated recipe with a high risk of failure. I really want to get into bread making so I needed this to be a positive experience. After much clicking and page turning I decided on a recipe from Thibeault’s Table. The quote on his blog says “recipes are meant to be shared” so I figured he wouldn’t mind, and would actually be flattered, if I used his recipe. Only after I started the bread did I realize it was a Julia Child recipe he had used. I clearly know how to recognize quality!
Here it goes!
As found on Thibeault’s Table – Adapted from Julia Child’s recipe
1 package dry active yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups cold water plus 1/3 or so additional water (in case you need it… I didn’t)
What I liked about this recipe is that I could use a food processor to initially mix the ingredients. I don’t have a standing mixer so it facilitated things a bit.
Put the flour, yeast and salt into your food processor and pulse it until it looks combined. (Make sure to put the lid on or flour will go everywhere. Trust me.)
Through the hole at the top of your lid add the 1 1/3 cups of water and mix until it forms a ball. This happens relatively quickly. Mix for about 60 seconds and then let the ball rest for about 5 minutes in the mixer’s bowl.
Turn the mixer back on and let the ball rotate around your machine about 30 times. I realized this was hard to count so I just let it got for a couple minutes and then turned the machine off.
Let the dough rest for about 2 minutes (or about as long as you can stand it) and then take it out of the mixer bowl and knead it “vigorously”. I can just see Julia Child saying this.
This dough will not be sticky. It should have a nice elasticity to it. If this is the case when you are trying, well done! I at least, was excited.
Place the dough in a clean, un-oiled bowl (some recipes call for oiling a bowl but this one doesn’t) and cover it with plastic wrap.
Let it rise for about 40-60 minutes at around 75 degrees. You know the dough has risen enough with it is about twice its original size. My grandfather used to place his dough on top of the stove. He would turn on the oven so the stove would stay nice and warm. Worked for him so I gave it a try.
Deflating: (this sounded fun to me)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it out into a 14 inch rectangle. Take one long side and fold it into the middle. Take the other long side and fold it onto the first side to make 3 layers of dough. Repeat this process a few times. This apparently re-distributes the yeast.
Return the dough to your bowl, smooth side down, and let it rise another hour to 2 hours until it has rise 2-3 times its original size. This step took much longer than 2 hours for me. More like 3.5 hours. I’m sure it will be different each time you make it. Patience. It’s worth it.
At this point in the recipe is where I want to disagree Thibeault or gasp Julia Child. The recipe calls for taking the dough out of the bowl and shaping it into two rectangles. I followed the recipe, which gave me two smaller loafs of bread, but I question if this is really necessary. What if I just want one large loaf? Next time I might skip the “cutting” step and just shape the bread.
Shaping and last rising:
Cut the dough in half. Cover one half with a towel while you work with the other half. Just like the previous step, pat the dough into a 14 inch rectangle. Fold your rectangle in half lengthwise. Seal the edges firmly with the palm of your hand. Repeat with the second half.
Cover both little loaves with a towel and let it rise until it doubles in size, again. What did I tell you about this being a time consuming project?
While these little ones are rising for the last time, place a baking stone, or cookie sheet in my case, in the oven and pre-heat it to 450 degrees.
Slash 3 long cuts into your bread and place them in the oven. You are almost done!!
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature is 200 degrees and your bread is golden brown. FINISHED!
This bread was great as a snack with butter and honey, or with the fool proof Nutella or for breakfast as toast! I have to say it was really fun to take my very own bread out of the refrigerator for breakfast every morning. (Yes, don’t forget to refrigerate this bread. This is not bread from the store that can sit out because it is full of preservatives. This is home made, preservative free, delicious bread. Please refrigerate or it will get moldy.)