Friday, September 18, 2009

An Introduction with a Side of French Bread

Up until now, I've never really understood the fascination with dishwashers. They are loud, take up precious cupboard space and each one has to be loaded a little differently in order to make the most things fit. But let me just say that living without a dishwasher is becoming a nightmare especially since the amount of cooking/baking I do is increasing constantly. I never appreciated you oh glorious dishwasher and now that you are gone I am at a loss. But, the baking must go on and the dishes must be done and so I make do.

Now. For the culinary adventures.

A month or so ago stewing beef was on sale at Whole Foods and Brad, my adoring and ravenously hungry boyfriend, suggested we get some and I could make stew. I told him I would not cook stew mid-summer in his apartment (where I would undoubtedly die of heat exhaustion cooking over a stove all day in a non-air conditioned apartment) and so the beef was frozen for later use.

When I moved into my apartment a few weeks ago I decided it was time to cook the stew. This post however is not about the stew, which was delicious, but rather about the French bread I made to go with it.

Ever since I made Challah last spring I've been fascinated with making bread. I've even tried my hand at pretzels which were delicious but need a little bit of refining. I decided that I wanted to make rolls or bread to go with the stew and settled on the French Bread recipe in The Joy of Cooking of which I have the August 1973 printing. What resulted were two loaves of delicious french bread that amazed my boyfriend and stayed fresh for days. Completely worth the sticky fingers and extra dishes.

French Bread
adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Time: about 1 1/2 hours plus 2 1/2 hours rising
Yield: two small loaves (or probably one large one)

1/2 cup milk (I used whole, as you probably should with bread)
1 cup boiling water
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup water at approximately 85 degrees (mine was a bit hotter - closer to 100 degrees)
1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar

1. Warm the milk in the microwave in a glass measuring cup until hot and then pour it into a saucepan on the stove. Bring it nearly to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it reaches a near boil add the boiling water and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Cool to 85 degrees.
2. While the milk and water mixture cool, add the yeast to the 1/4 cup warm water and use a fork to mix until dissolved. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture along with the butter and the 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir to combine.
4. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, salt and sugar. Make a whole in the center for these ingredients and slowly pour in the liquid mixture. Stir thoroughly but DO NOT knead* the dough will be soft. Cover the dough with a towel and set in a warm place to rise at least 2 hours. I find that heating an oven to 150 degrees and then turning it off before putting the bread in there is a great way to facilitate rising - but I also keep the AC at 72 so...
5. break down the dough and place it on a lightly floured board and pat into two equal oblongs or make the correct size for a bread pan - butter your bread pan first it will help to keep your loaf from breaking when you release it from the pan. Place the oblong on a greased bakig sheet.
6. Cut diagonal 1/4 inch deep slits across the tops with a knife (I found serrated worked best) to form the customary french indentations. Set in a warm place an allow to rise to nearly double in bulk, about half an hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and on the bottom rack of the oven place a pie tin with 1/2 inch of boiling water. Bake the bread for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes longer. Voila! Delicious home baked French Bread.

Note: The Joy of Cooking suggests brushing the loaves with a glazing mixture of 1 beaten egg white and 1 tablespoon cold water about 5 minutes before they come out of the oven. I found this step to be unnecessary because the hot bread simply turned the glaze into what looked like a very thin eggwhite coating. It was not attractive and I promptly wiped mine off.

* Really, there is no need to knead it. I didn't and my bread turned out beautifully. Just give it a good mixing with a wooden spoon and live with the lumps and tiny imperfections, I know, it was hard for me too, but I promise it will all come together.