Making bread is such a simple pleasure.  It costs barely anything, and requires hardly any effort.  The only thing bread making requires is time.  The major rule in yeast bread baking is don’t kill the yeast. Otherwise, you might as well use your loaf as a door stopper.  I’ve compiled a few more tips to help you with your bread baking adventures:

How do I make sure my bread will rise?
-Too much heat will kill yeast.  Keep the temperature of any ingredients (typically scalded milk, or warm water) under 115F.  It should feel lukewarm to the touch.  Cool temperatures will not harm the yeast, but will cause a slower growth.  As yeast feeds on the dough, it multiplies, and releases carbon dioxide gas.  This is what causes the dough to rise.  If your dough doesn’t show any signs of rising, throw it out.  Check the expiration date on your yeast and start over.

What type of flour should I use?
-Bread flour is preferred for this recipe, but not required.  It depends on the results you desire.  If you’re looking for more of a rustic, hearth-style bread, use bread flour.  If you’re making something more delicate, such as rolls, all purpose flour works better.  If you decide to try out whole wheat flour, my best suggestion is to substitute some all-purpose or bread flour mixed in.  Otherwise, it’ll be extremely dense.

How do I get a perfect looking _____ bread?
-Practice!  Free-form loaves are the toughest to master.  This French Bread is the perfect example of a free form bread.  Don’t expect it to look perfect!  It doesn’t rely on a pan to hold it in.  Other examples are hearth-style breads, or sourdoughs.

How do I know when my bread is done?
-Always a tough question.  Recipes always say  to tap the bottom of the loaf with your finger, and if it sounds hollow, it’s done.  Sometimes, I laugh at those instructions.  It’s crazy to pull a piping hot loaf of bread out of the oven and start tapping at the bottom.  Or, stick an instant-read thermometer in the bread.  Most are done at 195F.  These days, I go by look/feel of the bread.  You’ll get the hang of it.

Don’t feel intimidated by baking bread!  Just like anything, it can be mastered with practice!

This French bread recipe is adapted from the Joy of Cooking and makes two baguettes.

Ingredients:
-4 Cups Bread Flour
-1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
-2 1/4 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
-1 1/2 cups Warm Water (105-115F)

In a mixing bowl, add flour, salt, and yeast.

Stir together.

Make a well in the flour mixture.  Slowly pour water in.

Mix together and knead for 12 minutes.  (Or, if using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment on low speed for 12 minutes total.)

Remove dough and oil the bowl.

Add dough, and let rise in a warm place for two hours.  I usually cover mine with a clean, floured towel.

Before:

After 2 hours:

Punch the dough down with your first and bring the edges of the dough to the center.

Cut dough in half and form baguettes.  Push the dough away from you, rolling with both hands until the dough is long and thin.

Place on an oiled pan and allow to rise for an hour, or until almost doubled in size.

Here it is after the second rise:
Preheat oven to 400F.  Now, it’s time to score the bread.  Scoring the bread helps it rise properly without ripping or tearing on its own.  Not to mention, it looks pretty!

Use a lame, a razor blade, or a very sharp knife.
Put an oven safe bowl or baking pan on the bottom of the oven.  Pour 1 cup of water into the pan to create steam.  This will create a chewy crust.

Bake the bread on the center rack at 400F for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350F and bake another 30 minutes.  Turn oven off and crack the oven door for another 5 minutes, or until bread is done.

Wait until bread has cooled before slicing.

This makes great French toast, or perfect for Bruschetta!


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