I want to go back to a time when cooking was simple. I don’t want to search aimlessly online for a new and exciting recipe. I don’t want to have to go to the store and search for obscure ingredients. I just want real, wholesome food. I want bread. Nothing can be more simple and soulful as fresh-baked bread. It is a universal symbol of life and nourishment. Bread plays a vital role in cultural history and each region of the world has its own variation of bread; Naan, tortilla’s, European sourdough’s, America’s white yeast breads. There is nothing more pure and simple than fresh bread in every form.
There are two basic kinds of breads most popular in the US; naturally leavened and yeast breads. Naturally leavened artisanal breads were limited to San Fransico’s for the past few decades, but have been making a comeback over the past few years. I am so grateful to the talented and dedicated bread bakers of the world. Artisanal leavened breads are truly a treat. You can find them at most farmer’s markets, and once you try them, store-bought loaves will seem boring and bland at best. I recently finished a weekend bread making course at a really great European style bakery and I will share what I learned in a later post.
But for now, there is also something to be said for Yeast Breads. They are quicker and more predictable to make, and are a perfect bread recipe for a novice home baker. Here is my fallback recipe for a French baguette. I found the recipe in my favorite cookbook of all time, How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman.
Easiest and Best French Bread
By: Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything
3 ½ cups All Purpose flour (1 pound)
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2cups water
- Place flour, salt and yeast in a food processor (use the steel blade attachment). Pulse for 5 seconds. While still running, solely pour the water through the tube. Process about 30seconds.
The dough should be sticky, but formed into a shaggy kind-of-a-ball thing.
- Dump the dough into a large bowl and cover. I cover it with a damp cloth and put in my microwave or oven. (Do not turn the microwave on, of course, just put it there because it is a draft free place)
Let the dough rest for 2-3 hours. You can refrigerate it for up to 12 hours, but make sure to bring it back to room temp when you go to the next step. The longer you let it sit, the better flavor it will develop.
- Sprinkle some flour on the counter and cut the lump of dough into about 3 equal pieces for baguette’s . Shape each piece into a ball and cover for 10-30 minutes.
Lightly flour a flat baking sheet.
- Press the dough ball flat with your palm. Fold it in half on top of itself, like a greeting card. Now fold it on top of itself again. Then, roll it, like a play-doh snake. Place the “snake”, seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat this for the other 2 dough balls.
- Cover the loaves with a cloth and let rise at room temp for 1-2 hours. The loaves will be about 1-2 times their original size.
About 3o minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450. Sprinkle each loaf with flour and slash the tops with a sharp knife or blade.
Place the loaves in the oven. Spray the inside of the over with water, or put a shallow dish with about an inch of water in the oven underneath the baking pan. The steam will help to create a nice crust.
- Bake 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
To really maximize your bread making experience, serve it up with fresh butter or nice dipping oil. My kids love when I put olive oil with a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese on a small plate for dipping.