August 25, 2010

What's Cookin': French Bread

One of my Domestic Goals is to make french bread. And not just french bread, but Really Good French Bread. I have had this goal for a very long time (since I started making bread over 3 years ago, really). The one recipe I had been using was from the Betty Crocker cookbook.

Now, I love my Betty Crocker cookbook. My mom-in-law gave it to me when I got married and I have cherished it deeply. It is marked and tagged and covered in food (the signs of a well loved cookbook). However, I have come to the conclusion that the French Bread recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook is crap.

For a long time I thought I just sucked at French Bread. It was never going to happen. There was really just no hope and I should just give up and stick to Whole Wheat and white breads. My attempts at french bread always turned out flat and hard, with a lame texture. (Lame is the best word I could come up with to describe it. Just go with it.) The taste - a sourdoughish flavor - was good, but the fact that it never really rose and just turned into one big breadstick turned me off.

Then I joined the Cooking From Scratch forum on Ravelry. It just started about a week ago, and I am a founding member. (If you are a part of Ravelry, I highly suggest this group. If you are at all into fiber arts or crafts, I highly suggest Ravelry.)

So I put a plea out to the girls. Please, does anyone have a good French Bread recipe? The Betty Crocker one has failed me on many occasion. Please someone tell me it's not just my poor pathetic attempts.

LuisaCA (her Ravelry name - I'm guessing her real name is Luisa) answered my call and gave me a recipe for "Stretch Bread". It sounded horribly easy. And fast! It didn't call for the 4+ hours of refrigeration that the BC recipe did. So last night I tried it, to have with dinner.

And it worked. It turned out great! It tastes just like french bread, it looks like french bread, it even crackles like french bread. It was delicious and wonderful. It's a little flatter than I had hoped, but I could have let it rise longer. I was impatient. I wanted to try it and eat it. I double the recipe, and I'm so glad because now I have extra bread to munch on. So here is the recipe from Luisa, so that you too can have wonderfully easy Real Good French Bread.

Stretch Bread (Pane Francese)
1 envelope active dry yeast or (2 ½ tsp)
¼ cup warm water (110 F)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cups AP flour (preferably unbleached)
1 to 1 ¼ c ice water
Activate yeast in the warm water for 10 minutes. Mix 3 c flour, sugar, salt in large bowl. Add yeast mixture and 1 c cold water. Mix slowly then med for 5 minutes. ( I use an Kitchen Aid mixer) Dough is a “wet” dough.
Let dough rise until doubled about an hour.
Shape loaves:
Sprinkle counter with 2 Tbs flour. Divide dough in half, form into 2 loaves. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Cover with plastic wrap lightly sprayed with Pam. Cover, let rest 30 minutes. Carefully lift & stretch dough to 12-14 inches. And place on greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with the plastic wrap again. Let rise until puffy 10-15 minutes. Slash tops in about 3 places, or however you like. Place in pre-heated 475 F oven, lower temp to 425, bake 20-30 minutes. If you are not sure about testing for doneness by the tap-to-hear-if –it-sounds-hollow method, you can use an instant read thermometer poked in an unobtrusive place. It should register 190-210. After done, turn oven off and leave oven ajar for another 10 minutes for a crisper crust. This bread has an open crumb with a rustic look.

I think you could fudge a sourdough taste with this one as well by refrigerating the loaves just like the BC recipe. I would say stick them in during the rise before you stretch it and let it sit over night. Just a guess though, haven't tried it.... yet. 


Valerie@Losing10PoundsAgain said...

Oh, I bet your kitchen smells wonderful with bread baking!

Farm Girl said...

It looks yummy and I am going to try it. I never could make good french bread. I missed the boys today. It is hard to get used to Wednesdays but now I have Friday to look forward too. I hope that the heat isn't to bad on you today.

Meg said...

Valerie: it did! Fresh homemade bread is one of my favorite smells.

Mom: Oh it's miserable. We turned the cooler on at 4 this morning, it was already hot. I have every fan in the house on and all I can do is just sit in one place and not move for fear of generating heat. I am really looking forward to a cool weekend. Yes, the boys keep asking to go to Gma Kim's and I have to tell them "Not today". It is weird.

Jennifer said...

I have been using a recipe from my better homes and gardens jun 09 edition. It is always flat and weirdly white on top. I am going to try this one today. sweet! Thank you.

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