French Bread at Home

Feb 18th

This recipe is a standby for me – originally from when I taught at the high school, this was a hit for several reasons. First of all – it’s easy as pie (or…bread). Secondly, my students would be REALLY proud of themselves for making something that they’d only ever seen from a bakery. And finally, it works great as a COOL RISE which means we could make it in one 40 minute class, and bake it the next day after it had rested serenely in the fridge overnight.
Now, I’m no dummy, I know that baguettes are sold for $1.99 at any grocery store, and occasionally I’ll just buy one of those when having company. Since I have an aversion to single-item-grocery-stops, and a loaf of bread tastes best bought the day you plan to eat it, It’s mentally easier for me to make it at home sometimes than to buy it. All you have to do is plan ahead a bit – the work is minimal.
 This is made with all white flour so it rises beautifully light and forms a perfect chewy, crispy crust. Just like my favorite pizza dough, the cool rise lends the best flavor and texture because of the slower yeast growth. That being said, if you’d like to just make it the day of I will give instructions for that as well. Literally nothing smells better than baking bread – and slicing into it when it’s still warm is just lovely. My favorite thing to do with a fresh baguette is to drizzle slices with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle some kosher salt over top – simple, delicious, and one of my favorite snacks growing up (taught to me by my dad, who would steal the bread slices from his nonna’s kitchen).

French Bread at Home

Makes 1 loaf

2 1/2 c. all purpose flour, divided

1 package rapid rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp. )

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. soft butter (that’s 1/2 a tablespoon)

1 c. warm water

Olive oil

Cornmeal

1 Egg white

1. In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer), mix 3/4 c. flour, sugar, salt, yeast and butter. Use paddle attachment for standing mixer.

2. Gradually add warm water and beat for two minutes (with handheld or standing mixer) at medium speed.

3. Add 1/2 c. flour and beat on medium high speed for two minutes.

4. If using a standing mixer, switch to the dough hook. If using handheld, switch to a wooden spoon. Add 1 1/4 cup flour, gradually, and stir to form a dough that leaves the edges of the bowl.

5. In standing mixer, knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. Without standing mixer, turn out dough to a floured counter and knead for 10 minutes or until dough is smooth, tacky, and elastic.

6. Let dough rest on a floured counter top covered under plastic wrap and a clean dish towel for 30 minutes.

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7. Spray a heavy baking sheet with nonstick spray and then sprinkle down the center with about 1 tbsp. cornmeal.

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8. Roll out dough on floured counter top to form a 15 x 10 inch rectangle. Starting at the long side, roll dough tightly. Pinch the seam and the edges closed. Transfer dough, seam side down, to prepared sheet.

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9. Spray one side of the plastic wrap with nonstick spray and lay on top of the dough. Let rise in the fridge for 24 hours or at room temperature for 1 hour. Putting your dough in the fridge keeps growing the yeast but at a MUCH slower rate. If you want to let it rise while you’re home for 2 hours and then place in the fridge for 24 hours before baking, that will work fine. If you want to put it right in the fridge and then let it rest near the oven for an hour or two before baking, that will work too.

10. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Score the two with diagonal slices about 1/2 inch deep, right before baking.

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11. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven (but maintain oven temperature). Combine egg white with 1 tbsp. water and beat in a small bowl. Brush mixture over the top and the sides of the bread. Place back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

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12. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Keep bread covered with a clean dish towel at room temperature if serving that day. Can be frozen – wrap in a tight layer of plastic wrap and then a double layer of foil. Will keep for 1 month, frozen.

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