Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crusty French Bread

There is something about baking bread that makes me feel so accomplished.  It's the smell of my apartment all afternoon as the dough rises and then bakes and in the technique of shaping the dough.  Part of it is also in the time commitment.  Sure, the majority of the time the dough is left alone to rise in a dark, draft free hiding place, but hey, I spent the whole afternoon baking and I, I made bread.  You know, the sustenance of life.

At least that is how it all plays out in my head, my getting praise and domestic goddess awards for no other reason really besides the fact that chemistry was awesome enough to work, just like it always works.  But if you're going to insist, I really have no issue taking all the credit.  I did find the perfect dough rising place, and that's worth something, right?

According to be November issue of Cooking Light, these round loaves of crunchy goodness are coined Crunchy French Boules.  I've been calling it crusty bread, until just minutes ago when I decided to be fancy and throw a French in there too.  For the most part, I followed the instructions as given in the magazine, including making a few days beforehand the "pâte fermentée".  This pre-fermenting step was easy enough to throw together on a Wednesday night and I am told added great complexity to my bread.  I can not vouch for this one way or another, but general consensus is that pâte fermentée is a good thing and makes homemade bread all the better, so I would suggest you follow suit as well.

Now, to the heart of the matter, cookbook worthiness.  I am not sure that this is the crusty bread to reign forever in my Big Green Cookbook.  It was good and tasty and all the things crusty bread is supposed to be, it just wasn't the crusty bread. It tasted yummy with cheese and soup and dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with toasted garlic bits, it just wasn't the crusty bread.  So, it's on the bench for now.  It could very well be called in to play an inning or two, but it is second string at heart.  And the search is not over for my star crusty bread recipe.

Crusty French Bread
From November 2011's Issue of Cooking Light

pâte fermentée:
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. warm water (100-110 deg. F)

bread dough:
3/4 c. warm water (100-110 deg. F)
1 tsp. active dry yeast
2 2/3 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten (photo above)
1 tsp. salt
Cornmeal, to sprinkle

To make pâte fermentée, lightly spoon 1 c. of flour into measuring cup and level off.  Combine with yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  With mixer on low, slowly add warm water to flour mixture, beating until thoroughly combined.  Add additional flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until dough begins to pull away from the bowl.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.  Turn dough into small bowl coated with cooking spray.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap that has been lightly spritzed with cooking spray.  Place in fridge for 24-72 hours, the longer it can sit the better.

Before baking bread, remove pâte fermentée from fridge and allow to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

To make dough, add warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle with yeast.  Let stand 5 minutes or so until water begins to bubble and foam.  Add room temperature pâte fermentée and let stand 10 minutes.  Add flour, vital wheat gluten and salt.  Beat on low speed until flour is just incorporated.  Increase mixer speed to medium and knead dough about 6 or 7 minutes, until dough forms a ball.  Turn out into a large bowl coated with cooking spray, lightly cover with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray.  Let rise in a dry, warm, draft free hiding space about 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size.  (To check:  "gently press two fingers into dough.  If indentation remains, dough has risen enough")

Punch dough down and divide in half.  Knead each half for about 1 minute, slowly shaping it into a round bu pulling sides down, around and pinching under neath.  Dough should form a smooth, taunt surface.  Place dough on baking stone sprinkled with cornmeal.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap, sprayed lightly with cooking spray.  Return to warm, dry place and let rise  about 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place oven-proof dish with 3 inches of water on the lowest rack in the oven.

Once dough has risen, take a sharp nice and cut a tic-tac-toe pattern into the top of each loaf with 4 cuts, 1/4 inch deep.  Spritz tops lightly with water.  Move to oven and bake at 450 for 10 minutes.  Remove water pan from oven.  Bake for 15 minutes more or until crust is golden brown and crusty deliciousness.  When tapped on the bottom, the bread should sound hollow.  Cool on wire rack.

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