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French Bread

French Bread

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Makes 2 loaves.
By Dennis W. Viau; adapted from traditional recipes.
This is my most popular YouTube video.

Homemade French bread has a special beauty all its own, and it usually generates “Oooo’s!” and “Ahhh’s!” when brought to the table. I was invited to a potluck lunch and I was on the “Bread” list. So I made this bread. Everyone else brought something they bought at the store. When word got around that I made the French bread, everyone lined up for a piece. Two loaves were gone in very little time. Homemade bread simply has that special appeal and mystique that engenders fascination and admiration. It’s also cheap. I buy my bread flour in 25-pound sacks at the warehouse store. A loaf of bread costs me about 25¢ if I don’t add beer.

Bread making is also easy when you have a stand mixer. I made bread by hand for years before I bought a stand mixer. So feel free to use your hands; it’s good exercise.

Ingredients:

2 pounds (900g) bread flour (6 cups scooped or 7 cups sifted*)
1 tablespoon yeast, instant or active dry
2½ cups (591ml) water
2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Heat the water to about 115°F (45°C), or use warm tap water. In a mixer bowl combine approximately half the flour with the yeast. Mix in the warm liquid with a rubber spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, and let rest for about 5 minutes to activate the yeast.

Add the remaining flour and the salt. Combine until thoroughly incorporated and then knead the dough for about 5 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. It should be slightly sticky, so try to avoid any temptation to add more flour.

Place in a large buttered bowl and roll around to coat the entire surface with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a cool (65°F/15°C) place until tripled in bulk, about two hours.

Deflate the dough a little and shape into a ball. Return to the bowl and cover again. Allow to rise a second time, about 1 hour. This additional rise will enhance the texture and flavor.

Divide into two even portions. Shape into loaves and place on a greased or lined baking sheet or baguette pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise again about 45 to 60 minutes.

Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Slit the top of each loaf diagonally a few times with a sharp knife or razor blade, about ¼ inch (6mm) deep. Place the loaves in the heated oven and spray the loaves and walls of the oven with water, but don’t spray the bulb; it might explode. Repeat a minute later and again another minute later. Wait 3 minutes and spray the oven and loaves one more time. Bake 20 minutes, turn off the heat, open the door about an inch or two and let the bread remain in the oven 5 minutes. The internal temperature of the bread should be between 195°F and 205°F (90°C and 96°C). Cool on a wire rack before cutting.

*For baking, I weigh the flour rather than measure it volumetrically. Weighing is more accurate.