French Bread

Sometimes the simplest habits could bring the real happiness. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it is true. I’m talking about waking up in the morning, prepare the table for the breakfast, put beautiful flowers at the center, sit with all your family together, and then… enjoy a fresh French bread recently baked and prepared by yourself. This is the perfect way to start a happy day!

Today, I got this happiness. I made the best French breads ever. Crunchy crust, golden brown, and the most important: they taste like French Bread! I’ve been tried a lot of recipes e finally I found the perfect one!

As the author of the recipe, Peter Reinhart, said “making a great loaf of French bread is both an art and a science”. Many factors can affect the chemical changes that occur during the fermentation process, but the secret is called slow rise. If the bread rises too fast, as Julie Child said, “the yeast has not had an opportunity to produce the slow aging and maturing that develops flavor”. That’s why it is very important to put the bread in the fridge overnight before you baked it.

For me, shape the dough proved to be the most difficult step and required a lot of practice. Despite this problem, the bread was perfect!

French Bread
(From Crust and Crumb, Peter Reinhart)

Makes 3 baguetes

3 1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour
31/2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon malt powder or brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 2/3 cups cool water (65 to 70 F)
Vegetable oil cooking spray

Combine the flours, salt, malt, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Add the water, and stir with a large wooden or metal spoon till the flour is gathered and the dough forms a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead vigorously for about 10 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. Knead in extra flour or water (just a few drops at a time) if necessary to achieve this consistency. The dough is fully kneaded when it passes the windowpane test and is between 77°F and 80°F.

Place the dough in a large, clean bowl that will hold it when it has doubled in bulk. Mist the dough lightly with cooking spray. Cover the bowl (not the dough) with plastic wrap or enclose it in a plastic bag, and let it rise for about 30 minutes. It should just begin swelling. Knead the dough for 30 seconds, form it into a ball, and re-cover the bowl with plastic. Allow it to rise for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Scale, bench, and shape the dough into loaves or rolls. Place them on pans or in baskets. If using pans, line them with parchment paper and dust with cornmeal or semolina for texture; if using baskets, mist them with cooking spray and dust them with rice flour or bread flour to prevent sticking.

Lightly mist the top of the shaped dough with cooking spray to prevent sticking, and place the pans or baskets inside a large plastic bag. Let it rest for 15 minutes. Place the shaped dough in the refrigerator overnight, making sure the bag is loose but closed to prevent drying.

The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator but leave it in the bag. The dough should be 50 percent to 75 percent larger than when in. If so, let the dough sit out for 1 hour to take off the chill. if not fully risen, let it sit at room temperature for 3 or 3 hours, until it completes its rise.

Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to place the empty steam pan on a lower rack. Preheat the oven to 475°F (allow about 35 minutes for it to heat fully). Make sure your spritzer bottle is filed with water. Remove the pan of dough from the plastic 15 minutes before baking, to allow the surface of the  dough to dry slightly. Just before baking, score the bread. Put the loaves or rolls in the oven, either on sheet pans or by peel directly on the stone. Then pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the empty steam pan, quickly spritz the oven walls and the bread with water, and close the door.

After 2 minutes, quickly spray the oven walls and the bread again. Repeat in 1 minute. Then, lower the oven temperature to 450°F. Wait 10 minutes and check the bread. (Check rolls after 5 minutes.) Rotate the bread, front to back, if it seems to be baking unevenly. (If baking on more than one oven rack, rotate the bread top to bottom as well.)

When the bread has developed a rich, golden brown color -  this will take about 25 minutes for loaves and 15 minutes for rolls - turn off the oven (or lower it to 350° if you plan to bake again). Leave the bread in the oven an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until it seems on the verge of over browning.
Remove the bread to a cooling rack and allow it to cool throughly before eating, 60 to 90 minutes for loaves, 20 minutes for rolls.