Starting Simple: French Bread

For a long time, yeast intimidated me. I had no idea how to tell if it was active, how long I was supposed to let things rise, how I would know when I’d used it right, etc. The fact that it came in pre-measured packages made me feel like there was some sort of exact science to it that I may never understand. I overthink things like that.

But it turns out, yeast is extremely simple, and making bread is extremely easy, as well as one of those basic foods we all eat every once in a while.

To make good french bread, you only need water, yeast, flour, and salt. Olive oil or white wine vinegar enhances the dough and the taste, and sugar or honey will feed the yeast and ensure it rises faster, although none are strictly necessary. And remember not to be stingy on the salt. I made that mistake over and over, and while easy to fix, it does make a difference when the bread comes out just right all on its own merit.

Unless you’re buying radically expensive flour, making your own bread is extremely economic, delicious, and simple. Extra plus, so long as you don’t use honey, it’s vegan! Okay, maybe that’s not massively exciting, but with all the diet plans people have, it’s definitely worth noting. And I see there’s this stigma to vegan food sometimes, like it must be so mundane and tasteless and awful, and “like, but what would you even eat?” This doesn’t have to be so, and whether you, like a few friends of mine, are attempting a vegan diet for the first time, or merely planning for the company of vegans, it helps to start with what basics are available to you. Definitely not low-carb, here, but hey. We gotta start somewhere.


Ingredients:

Yield: 8 loaves

  • 1 and 2/3 to 2 cups water
  • 2-3 teaspoons of yeast, or one packet
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 cups flour, plus more as needed.
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • splash of some white wine vinegar

What to do with all that? Simple!

1. Heat up 2/3 water in something microwaveable. Warm, but not too hot. We need to activate the yeast, not scald it.

2. Mix the sugar, if using, with the warmed water, then add the yeast and stir. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. If you don’t see this mixture foaming respectably, your yeast probably won’t give you nice fluffy bread and isn’t alive. Start over with new yeast. You can go ahead if you like, but what you get will be dense, cook incorrectly, and you’ll only yield half as much.

3. Add flour, half a cup at a time, and mix until you have something resembling a bit more dough. Then add salt, and white wine vinegar, and the rest of the water.

4. Continue adding flour until you get the dough to a soft, not quite so sticky substance. Ideally, you get a nice ball of warm, soft dough that won’t stick to your fingers so much. This may be hard to judge if you don’t have a mixer and are mixing by hand because of all the dough already stuck to you, but you should still be able to tell by how well it holds to the sides of the bowl. More than 5 cups of flour won’t likely be necessary, but keep adding flour or water until the right consistency is reached.

5. Cover the dough with a towel, someplace warm, and let rise for at least 45 minutes. Longer will be better, but you want the dough ball to more or less double in size inside the bowl.

6. Divide up the dough and shape into loaves. For this recipe you don’t need a bread pan. Just be aware that the size you make the loaves will affect how long they cook for. My recipe is perfect for splitting the dough into 8 loaves, and I cook them 4 to a pan.

7. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, while you again cover the loaves and let them rise for 20-30 minutes. The time you spent shaping them will have deflated the dough some, but they will un-flatten themselves in due time. You want to take the time to wait for this, as this lets the bread be a good size, and nice and fluffy.

8. Cook each baking sheet of 4 loaves for 20 minutes. Keep an eye on your oven, though. Cooking the bread at 450 degrees ensures the crust is nice, crisp, and beautiful, but also means it will burn faster. I haven’t done that, as of yet, but that’s luck on my part.

9. Remove from oven, let cool, and you did it! You made french bread, and it’s probably awesome.

Added Comments:
  • I use honey instead of sugar. Other similar replacements are also fine. The idea is to give the yeast a kick. Using no sugar will also work, but may be slower.
  • If using a mixer with a dough hook, take care not to over mix the dough. This will make the dough stiffer, denser, and tougher to work with.
  • Bread flour makes crispier bread and softer dough. My favorite to use if I have it on hand.
  • Measurements are guidelines. Don’t be afraid to change the ratios if the dough you have isn’t right. Getting the dough to feel right is more important than the exact measurements– that’s how you’re going to get it to do what you want it to. The amount of flour I seem to need for every batch I make seems to be different.
  • If you wanna get super fancy, mix spices in there. Whatever you like. Some people I know love rosemary in their bread.

Should end up something like this:

20150610_223644

And that’s my first contribution to Delicious Fantasy. Stay cool,

Lightmere

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