Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pinprovement! French Bread Recipe

I may have said this ad nauseum, but I just love making bread. You'll probably think I'm a total dork now, but I am going to admit something to you--sometimes, when I'm making bread and it is baking and making my whole house smell delicious, it makes me cry. Absolute tears of joy. I could never go carb-free.

In October I posted Pin 144, a recipe for one hour French bread. My family liked it in its original form but it was very dense and something was just not quite right for me. I tinkered around with the recipe a little bit and found a combination that I like a little better. It is no longer one-hour, but more like 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours. Still much faster than some other recipes I have tried. I make this recipe regularly and freeze the extra loaves. When I want one, I simply pop it in the oven and soon I have fresh, hot, homemade bread again.

As I mentioned in the original post, there were a few steps that I was just itching to change up. The first one of those was the yeast.

I swapped out the regular yeast for fast rising yeast. I was looking for a fluffier bread so I wanted to use maximize my yeast activity and rise time.

My recipe looks like this:

2 1/2 c warm water
2 packages of Fast Rise yeast
2 T sugar
1 tsp salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil
7 c flour

Add yeast and sugar to warm water and let sit for 5 minutes until you see lots of bubbles. When I first started making bread, my number one mistake was not getting my water warm enough or getting it too hot. It should be 105-110 degrees or as indicated on your yeast package. My advice to new bread makers is to actually measure the temperature of your water.
After 5 minutes--I have bubbles completely across the surface.  All the white is bubbles, you can see a bit of clear water at the edges. 
Add salt and oil. Stir to combine. I make this bread using my stand mixer with the dough hooks. If you don't have one, you can stir by hand until it is too thick and then knead by hand to combine all the flour.

Time to add the flour. I increased the recipe to 7 cups. I add flour 1/2 cup at a time and allow it to mix.  The original dough was really sticky and difficult to handle. Depending on your dough and your environment, you may need a little more or a little less flour. Here is my very scientific, expert method of how I determine when I have enough flour.

The poke test:

Gently poke a clean, dry finger into the dough:

Pull finger out. If it is covered in sticky dough, it is still too wet. Keep adding flour.

When you have enough flour, the dough is pulling away from the side of the bowl more and your poke test will look more like this:

Now it is time to let it rise. My poor husband usually gets dish duty. I try to keep the dishes down to a minimum so here is a little cheat step. Doing this cheat step saves me one large bowl from dish duty.

The right way to do it: Coat a large bowl in olive oil. Place the dough ball inside, turning over once to coat all sides.

The cheater's way: LIGHTLY spray the sides of your current bowl and the top of the dough with non-stick cooking spray (like canola spray).

I also spray the side of the plastic wrap that will come in contact with the dough.

Then I put the bowl in my warming cabinet. (heehee) If you didn't read Pin 144 about my warming cabinet I like to rise in, let me sum it here. Preheat the oven to 350 for 1 minute, then turn it off. Place your bowl of dough inside and let it rise. It is perfect! My dough always rises perfectly in there, it is undisturbed and warm no matter what the actual temperature of my kitchen is.

Allow the dough to rise 30 minutes to 1 hour. The longer you let it rise, the more air pockets you create for fluffier bread. However, keep your eye on it. After 30 minutes in the warming cabinet this is how tall my dough is:

Which is also why I spray every surface with cooking spray.

Next, I spray my working surface with cooking spray and dust with flour. Punch down the dough and divide the dough into four parts. You will see in the pictures that I can not divide evenly. My loaves are always a bit differently sized so do not stress if your loaves are not even.

Place one dough ball in the center of your workspace. Cover the remaining parts with your plastic.

Pat the dough ball into a flat, long oval. Do not overwork the dough. You will know you are overworking it if you can not get it to cooperate with you. If it won't pat out to an oval and keeps bouncing back, cover it with plastic and walk away for 10 minutes or so. Then come back and try again. Starting with the edge nearest you, roll in a jelly-roll fashion to create the loaf shape. I kind of roll with a little, teensy, stretch along the way.
This may be a good time to mention herbed breads. If you want four loaves of herbed breads, you can knead in your herbs after your flour, before your rise. If you don't want to knead them in, or if you want different kinds of loaves, you can do it here. I don't like to knead them in in this step--the bread seems to get too overworked. I sprinkle the herbs on top of my oval before I roll it and it bakes out pretty evenly.

Place on prepared baking sheet.

How I like to prepare my baking sheet for bread:
Spray sheet with cooking spray. Place parchment or wax paper on sheet. Spray parchment/wax paper with cooking spray. You can also dust with cornmeal, but I don't find that this recipe needs it.

Once you have all four loaves on the sheet, cut slits in the top of each loaf. I use kitchen scissors to snip the cuts or you can use a sharp knife. Cover with plastic until ready to bake. A second rise is not necessary. I usually just let it rest while the oven preheats.

Place in a oven, preheated to 375 degrees. Bake 30-35 minutes or until your desired brownness. I like to brush melted butter on the tops as it comes out of the oven.

For a crisper crust, place a dish of hot, steaming water in the oven below the bread pan during baking.

Thirty minutes later I had these beauties (see my little runt loaf? Nothing wrong with a runt.)

The final result is beautiful, isn't it? Here is the fluffier inside:
I hope you like my adjustments! If you want a denser bread, or if you want to try out the original, go check out the link from Pin 144

As I mentioned in the beginning, I freeze these loaves. Wrap in aluminum foil and pop in the freezer. When you are ready to eat it, pop it into the oven, still wrapped in the foil, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. I'm not sure how long these would keep in the freezer because we usually go through ours at about a 1 loaf/week rate. 

Good luck and Happy Bread Making!!


  1. I'm surprised no one has commented on this yet. This is awesome. I actually cooked two loaves and froze the other two raw for later. I actually make one of them today. All I did was let it defrost in the fridge over night and followed your warming cabinet directions to let it re-rise for about an hour and then baked it the exact same way. Perfect just like the first time! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Going to try this recipe today! It looks delicious! I love the extra pictures you added in for those of us ( that have not been successful at bread-making for various reasons! I am making chicken noodle soup for a friend and wanted to bake fresh bread to go with it. So here goes!!

  3. easy recipe! My yeast didn't do what yours did, but it didn't seem to matter. Thanks for posting it!