Peasant French Bread
This makes two small country style crusty loaves. This is a bread that can be made by a beginner or with a young person, just learning to handle dough and get almost no- fail results.
This takes about 3 hours all together, if you start at 3p you’ll have bread by 6.
Do not preheat the oven.
Do read the recipe, as this has many different steps or supplies than typical bread recipes might.
1 large, preferably ceramic bread bowl
2 cookie sheets lined with foil very lightly oiled with olive oil
1 heat proof 9×13 baking dish ( this will be filled with boiling water, so ready that too)
1/4c water with 1Tbsp salt mixed in a small cup. This is the final stage, a saltwater glaze. You’ll need a pastry brush dedicated to this step.
2 c warm water 115 degrees or so
1-2 Tbsp sugar
1 pkg yeast
6 c sifted Oklahoma’s own Shawnee Mills All Purpose Baking Flour ( you can add in a cup or so of wheat pastry flour, but more than this won’t work well).
In a large bowl
2 c warm water
2Tbsp sugar ( can use white or turbinado)
1 pkg yeast ( I like the results of Hodgson’s Mill)
1 c flour
Blend with a hand mixer on medium or high for 7 minutes. Creaming the yeast is an unusual step, but don’t skip it, as this is part of what generates the texture in the end. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place. ( usually inside the oven is a good idea.)
When the yeast has proofed ( risen with a bubbly surface), add as many as 5 additional cups of flour via kneading, incorporating about 1/2 a cup at a time. The dough should not be sticky. This takes as much as 15 minutes if done gradually. (Some people knead on a floured counter top, towel or board. I used a floured towel. Keep the towel, as there is a second kneading after the second rise.)
Scrape the bowl, so that it is clean, oil it very lightly and put the kneaded dough back in the bowl. Cover, and return to the oven. This should take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to rise to double.
After the second rise, punch down and knead briefly on the floured surface. Shape into two loaves. (This dough is very easy to handle and even my very young daughter made great looking loaves with nominal effort.) Loaves are made by taking the bread dough in two hands, and slightly turning the edges under to form a rounded side. Do this until the entire edge is turned. The loaf is about 12″ but it is fine if the loaf is longer or round.
Place on the lightly oiled pre-prepped sheets.
Cut the top with a thin, sharp knife, in lines or cross-hatch design.
Let rise on the countertop, until doubled.
Place one oven rack on the very bottom rung. The second, just above it.
Place a pot on the stove to boil water. This water will be placed in the baking dish, which will sit on the bottom rack. Bring to a rolling boil.
When the dough doubles a second time, brush lightly with salt water glaze and place in the cold oven with the baking dish with boiling water below.
Turn the oven on 400 degrees. Set the timer for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the loaves and brush again with the salt water glaze.
Continue on at 400 degrees, and bake for another 20 minutes.
The glaze and steaming water create a crusty french bread.
It is possible to remove the loaves from the sheet and cook straight on the on the rack in the last 5 minutes to generate increased crust on the bottom.
Upon removal from the oven, you should be able to tap the bottom of the loaf and hear a somewhat hollow sound. The loaf should be golden brown. Your oven, the climate, the flour and the season can determine length of cooking time, expanding as much as another 20 minutes, but usually not.
This bread can be torn or cut as desired. It has to cool longer if you wish to cut it. Makes great toast the next day.
A version of this bread originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.