Wednesday, September 21, 2011

French Bread

 There are certain things that I never even fathomed making. There's a way that buying a nice crisp load of French or Italian bread has become a part of my on the way home routine that is so innate to my schedule I can't imagine ever not doing it. I would never even stop to think how the amazing bread was made, even when I started making bread it never occurred to me that French bread was baked by someone, and not created magically by little French fairies in the sky with magic machines and wood burning ovens. This was what existed in my mind. Scary right?

But then... I BAKED IT MYSELF! Like a big girl, like a French fairy with a wood burning stove...but instead a Puerto Rican New Yorker with an tiny oven that only works at 250 or 450. A different version of the fantasy. You should try it, you won't believe how good you'll feel when it's done..and your apartment smells amazing...and it's super great.

Simple ingredients (no magic needed apparently)

Active yeast

Melt some butter, nice and slow.

Dry stuff.

Add some wet stuff.

Food processor! So easy!

Ball o' dough.

Make a roll. (Chako giggles...doof)

Put it to bed. 

A good nights sleep helps you grow.

Bake and release!

Yum. Serious yum.

An Honest Loaf of French Bread
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, February 26, 1978: "French Bread Without Tears" by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey

You'll Need...
1 1/8 tsps active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup cold water
2 tbsps unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Blend the yeast with the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until foamy.

Slowly melt the butter in the cold water by heating slowly in a saucepan.

Add flour and salt to a food processor. Blend the flour and salt by pulsing three times. Add the yeast mixture and the dissolved butter mixture. Blend until the dough forms and becomes a ball and clears the sides of the processor, about 10-15 seconds.

Lightly flour a clear surface and turn the dough onto it. Knead the dough quickly and gently, try not to add to much extra flour. Shape into a ball.

Put the dough in a bowl that has been lightly buttered. Cover with a clean cloth and let stand for about 45 minutes until doubled in size. Turn out onto the floured surface and knead again, shape into a ball and return to the bowl for another hour until doubled in bulk again.

Turn the dough onto the floured surface seam side up and flatten with your fingers into a rough rectangular shape. Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the center of the rectangle and roll up like a jelly roll. Transfer the roll to a baking sheet with the seam on the bottom and the ends folded under. At this point, the roll should be about 13 1/2 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide and 2 inches high. APPROXIMATELY! Don't go crazy. Cover with a clean cloth and return to a warm place. Let stand for 15-30 minutes until doubled in bulk.

As the dough rises, heat your oven to 450 degrees.

Using a super sharp knife (sharper then the one I used clearly...), make three parallel, diagonal gashes in the top of the dough. Immediately place the pain in the oven and add four ice cubes to the floor of the oven. Bake for five minutes then add four more ice cubes. Turn the pan so that the loaf bakes evenly. Bake for 10 minutes (now a total of 15!), then reduce the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Transfer the bread to a rack and let stand until cooled.



  1. An essential ingredient is wildly off as this person recreates Claiborne's original. I used to make Claiborne's original recipe over and again, but haven't for some years. For some reason I went to this recipe rather than the original. Claiborne calls for TWO ENVELOPES of yeast, which is 4 1/2 teaspoons. This person calls for a fraction of that. Small wonder my bread barely rose. Proof: Don't settle for less than the original.