Tuesday, March 26, 2013

French Bread

I get a lot of emails asking about date ideas. One of my biggest suggestions is taking a trip to wine country. If you don't have a wine country in driving distance, then go to a local wine shop. They do tastings too! The wine loosens you up for a romantic day together. 
Romantic Tip: Take a trip to a winery. Don't forget to take the tour and buy a bottle for reminiscing at a later date. Now on to today's recipe...
The other day I needed to make some cheese garlic bread for my husband's dinner and I didn't wan't to walk to the store for bread. No worries, I  just make the loaves myself. I kept one and gave the other to one of my neighbors. This recipe makes 2 loaves of french bread.

French Bread

1 1/4 cups warm water, divided
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups white all-purpose flour or bread flour
cooking spray
corn meal for sprinkling on baking sheet

Dissolve yeast in 1 1/4 cups warm water with a tablespoon of sugar. Allow to activate for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
While the yeast is activating, in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer add the salt, and 3 cups of flour. Add the activated yeast/water/sugar mixture. With the paddle attachment in place, turn mixer to low to blend all of the ingredients.
Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and mix the ingredients for about 15 minutes. Turn mixer off and allow sponge ingredients to rest for another 10 minutes.
The sponge will begin to rise. Turn mixer back on for a few seconds, just long enough to deflate the sponge. Turn mixer off again and allow the sponge to rise for another 15 minutes.

Change the mixing attachment to the dough hook. Add 1/2 cup of white flour to the sponge and mix on a low speed to allow the flour to be incorporated.
Add another 1/2 cup white flour if needed. Dough should get to where it doesn't stick to the bowl.
Allow the mixer to knead the dough until smooth and elastic. If your mixer cannot handle the dough, then turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and knead until smooth and elastic. Be careful not to incorporate too much flour. You do not want the dough to be stiff.

Gather dough into a ball. Place in an oiled or greased bowl; turn over once so that lightly oiled surface of dough is facing up. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise until almost double in bulk. 
While dough is resting, prep the baking sheet. Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray or use a very light coating of oil. Sprinkle baking sheet with cornmeal. Set aside.
Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough a few times to release the large gas bubbles formed by the yeast.

Working with your hands (or a rolling pin if you need it) break the dough into two pieces. Push the dough balls into 2 rectangles about 10 inches long and 8 inches wide. This does not have to be exact. 

Starting at one end, roll the dough up into a loaf. Pinch the seam closed. To help form nice ends on the rolled up dough, fold a few inches of each end towards the seam and pinch closed.
Turn the loaf over with the seam side down. With both hands, gently give the loaf a more elongated and uniform shape as needed by squeezing and pulling gently. The loaf should be about 10-inches long. Repeat with remaining ball of dough.
Place the shaped loaf onto the the prepared baking pan. Leave space on all sides of the loaves for rising. Cover with damp towel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes or until nearly double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F. 
With a sharp knife, preferably a bread knife, make 4 or 5 slashes 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep diagonally across each loaf. Use a light hand with the cutting so that the loaves will not collapse. 

Place baking pan in the oven. Then add a second small baking dish filled with hot water.  This will make steam which will help to crisp the crust. Close the oven door and bake the bread for 35 minutes or until the bread has a medium golden brown color and sounds hollow when tapped.
Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling rack to cool.

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