Bread making, like spectacularly detailed needlework or translating hieroglyphics, is one of those things that just wows people.
And while I could never produce detailed needlework or spell my name in hieroglyphics, I CAN make bread. But here’s the thing—you can, too. It couldn’t be easier, especially if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook. If you don’t, well, whose upper arms couldn’t use a little toning from hand kneading bread?
The thing to keep in mind about homemade bread is that even imperfect homemade bread, which many or even most of my loaves are, is still AMAZING. There is almost no such thing as a bad loaf of homemade bread unless it didn’t rise at all, but if that is the case then we’ll just call that plaster of paris and make art out of it.
So this recipe is a double wow, because it isn’t just sandwich-style bread, it is actually fancy French bread. Or at least it appears that way, but in fact it is just as easy as regular bread, if not easier.
I made this recipe for the first time recently when my can’t-bear-to-load-two-boys-back-into-the-car-and-go-to-the-store self was at odds with my carb-loving-must-have-bread-with-this-meal self, and I was surprised at how well it came out.
Try this next time someone says to you, “Oh, how about you just bring some bread?”
Easy French Bread
1 Tablespoon yeast
2 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups all-purpose flour (can also substitute up to 1/2 the amount with whole wheat flour)
1 egg white to brush on the top (optional)
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar, salt and about three cups of the flour. Turn on your mixer or start stirring. Beat until smooth, then gradually add remaining three cups of flour. Knead on a floured board until satiny smooth or just keep that mixer going.
Cover your mixing bowl with a clean cloth, and put in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size. (I put my bowl in the oven and turn the light on, which makes it very cozy warm indeed.)
When the dough has risen to your satisfaction, punch it down (this part is fun), and knead a little bit.
Now you can take the dough and shape it into desired shapes, like two long skinny snakes. Put the snakes on a greased baking sheet.
To get all fancy-like, cut diagonal gashes in the loaves, about 3/4 inch deep. Don’t be shy, lots of cuts are good. Cover with the same cloth, put in the warm place again, and let it rise for one hour, or until doubled.
Bake at 450 for about 35 minutes on the highest rack possible. If you want shiny loaves (and, really, don’t we all?), brush with egg white, and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn the bottom. Serve with butter or with a fruity olive oil for dipping.
To get really fancy-like, you could also sprinkle the loaves with sesame seeds or poppy seeds after the egg wash, too. Where does one get those? Why, from the bread baker’s mecca, of course, King Arthur Flour. I’m going to their STORE later this month—it’s heaven.