Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Recipe of the Week: French Bread

While growing up, my family wasn't very excited about cooking. But every now and then, the smell of cooking food would permeate every room of the home and send me running into the kitchen. Often, this smell would come from my father making bread.

He tried various recipes, and at one point even had some sourdough starter taking-up a semi-permanent residence in our refrigerator. But usually the bread had a hard crunchy crust, with a warm soft interior that just called for gobs of butter.

These memories have stayed with me. And late last year, I found myself trying to bake bread for the first time. It took a few tries before I was happy with the result. After all, getting a crunchy crust on a french bread is hard unless you have a professional-grade oven with steam injectors!  But the recipe below resulted in a tasty and tender bread that wasn't overly dense, and it had an almost perfect crust.

Make perfect bread with a pizza stone like this from Sur La Table.

First, there are some tips you should be aware of:

#1) If you want an awesome crunchy crust, steam is your friend. If placing the loaf on a pizza stone, or an upside down cast-iron skillet or baking  sheet, you'll want to place 1/2 cup of water in an open oven-safe container (i.e. pie tin) AND throw 1/2 cup of water onto the bottom of the oven once the bread is in the oven.  The water thrown into the oven flash-steams, while the water in the container evaporates over time keeping the oven more humid.

#2) Use a pizza stone, cast iron dutch or an upside-down cast iron skillet.You want something that is thick, retains and radiates heat. If you don’t have one of these, don’t worry, just use a good-quality, thick baking sheet -- upside down

Click "read more" to get the recipe

Full Disclosure: I heavily borrowed from this recipe.  Some changes include: reducing the amount of ingredients to make only one loaf; increasing the water used to steam in the over; and changing the mixing method for that of a food processor.


2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon active quick rising dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups warm water


1) Place flour, salt and yeast into food processor equipped with dough / bread blades. With the processor running, pour in warm water through the feed tube and let process until a dough ball forms – about 30 – 40 seconds. Let rest for two minutes, and process for 30 seconds longer. Dough should clear the sides but stick to the bottom. If it is too sticky, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time. If too dry, add 1 tablespoon of water to dough to adjust.

2) Take dough from processor and place onto a clean space (I use a large, lightly floured cutting board) and knead for about 5 minutes.  If it sticks, add flour to the board. Knead until the dough is very satiny, smooth, tight and formed into a nice, compact ball.

3) Place this dough in a large lightly oiled bowl. Turn dough over so that all sides have a thin coating of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place for 1 1/2 hours to let rest and rise (I use an oven with the light on). Dough should almost double in size. While once the dough is done rising, preheat your oven to 450 with the pizza stone inside.

4) After the dough has risen fully, punch dough down and form back into a ball. Poke your finger on the surface – the dough should give into the pressure and slowly creep back up.

5) Stretch out the dough until it forms a big rectangle.

6) Fold in the short ends and stretch out again. Take long ends and fold so they meet in the middle and pinch closed. Then pinch all open ends shut to seal in gasses.

7) Turn the bread over so that it is seam side down. Cover the loaf with a damp kitchen towel and let rest to rest on your well-floured cutting board for 30 minutes. After resting, take a sharp paring knife and make 3-4 diagonal slashes on the surface of the loaf, the deeper and more diagonal, the more crunchy crust you’ll have.

8) Remove your hot baking stone from hot oven. Slide the loaf onto stone.

9) Place pie tin with ½ cup water into oven on a lower shelf.  Then get ½ cup water and quickly pour water onto the bottom of the oven and quickly close the door.

10) Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove and let cool before cutting into it. But don’t let it cool too much – you’ll want the butter to melt!

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