A crusty loaf
May 10, 2009 4:31 pm
Updated: May 11, 2009 1:46 pm
I know I just posted recently but I have to share this bread recipe! It's got a great crust and its so soft its luxurious. I kinda made it up - now I know why my bread book has a whole chapter dedicated to "The Thrill of Discovery."
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (100 to 110F)
1 tsp sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp gluten flour (optional but highly recommended)
1 1/4 cup warm water (105 to 110F)
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp melted or soft butter
Prep (10 mintes)
Proof the yeast by mixing together yeast, water, and sugar (I do it in the measuring cup I use for the water, it's the perfect size). Let stand for 10 minutes - it should puff up to double the volume.
NOTE: Most recipes let you use a "quick dissolve" method where you just stir everything together at the same time and use water that is hotter, but I enjoy proofing my yeast. It may not be necessary but it makes me feel better, especially if my yeast isn't the freshest. If you don't have time or don't want to proof it, skip the sugar and 1/4 cup water and raise the temp of the water to 120 or 130F.
(Optional) While waiting for it to proof, microwave about 1 or 2 cups water in a shallow bowl for 5 minutes. Turn the oven to warm/200 for 20 sec then turn off. Place the bowl of water in the lower rack of the oven. This is to get the oven nice and steamy for the bread - it helps it rise and it helps the crust be...well...crusty!
Batter (2 minutes)
You can use your kitchenaid mixer for this next part; it's how I learned. Now that I have more experience I do it by hand. Blend together 2 cups of the flour, all of the gluten flour, the water, salt, butter, and yeast mixture. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, or by the paddle attachment on "stir" or low speed. This part is important because it "activates" the gluten in the batter.
Dough (10 minutes)
Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the remaining flour slowly until dough doesn't stick to the side of the bowl (keep using the paddle for the mixer). If kneading by hand, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with the push, quarter turn, fold repeat method. You want to put some umph into the kneading. Don't be gentle! Knead for 10 minutes until dough can be slapped into a ball and is slightly blistered on the surface.
You can use the mixer for kneading too, if you want, although it requires some micromanaging. Switch to the dough hook and put it on a 4 speed. This is the part you'll have to micromanage and watch very carefully. Dough in the mixer (especially a dough this soft) has a tendency to go slack and melt back into the sides. Sprinkle some flour in there as you go to keep this from happening. It should look like a a weird 3 knobbed ball of dough.
First Rise (1 hour)
Place dough ball in the greased mixing bowl and turn to grease all sides. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and then a slightly damp towel. Let it rise in the steamy oven for about an hour or even an hour and a half, till double in volume.
Shaping (10 minutes)
Punch down the dough a few times to get out air bubbles. Divide the dough in half (or you can make one GIANT loaf but its hard to cut). On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat out the dough to a 12 x 15 rectangle. If you're having a hard time getting the dough to cooperate, let it sit on the counter for a couple of minutes until it has relaxed, then continue shaping.
From the long end, roll the dough tightly. A method that works well for me is to press the roll into the flat where it mights lightly with my fingertips. Pinch the seam together, and tuck the ends under. You should have a ~15" long baguette type of loaf. Repeat for the other ball of dough. Place on a greased baking sheet, or one lined with parchment paper. Brush with melted butter then make a few diagonal cuts in the top with a sharp knife and a quick slashing motion (don't be gentle or dough will bunch up under the knife, no matter how sharp).
Second Rise (1 hour)
Cover with a damp paper towel and let them rise for 1 hour or until doubled. 45 min in to the rise, preheat the oven to 450F (leave the water bowl in there).
Bake (25 to 30 min)
Brush lightly with melted butter and bake for 25 to 30 min. The loaves should be golden brown. Turn it over and rap on the bottom with your knuckle - if it sounds hollow its done. If you don't know what hollow dough sounds like, turn the dough over when it just starts to get brown, about 20 min in to the baking time.
I'm not sure if baking at a higher altitude changes timing, but for best results use a candy thermometer for the water temperature and an oven thermometer to make sure it's not too hot or too cool. Check the bread often if you're worried about burning, especially if you make 2 little loaves vs the one big loaf.
You can probably use this recipe for general bread making tips - I've noticed many recipes here leave out or reduce the batter time and skimp on kneading, but those are important for developing a good texture to the bread. Anyways, enjoy!
UPDATE: On a whim I created a ricotta spread to go with a piece of this bread. It was fabulous. The bread was moist and fluffy, but I went ahead and microwaved for 10 sec then slathered this on. To make this spread, beat sugar into cheese, then blend in remaining ingredients. For less sweet spread, omit honey. It doesn't make much but this is how much cheese I had left to use up.
Creamy Ricotta Spread
2 tbsp low moisture ricotta cheese
1 tbsp splenda or sugar
1 1/2 tsp orange juice
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk
1/2 tsp honey
Crusty French Bread - Detail