Last week, I talked about proofing (or activating) yeast, so that your bread will get a good rise. This week, I wanted to go over kneading and baking your loaf of bread. It isn't nearly as hard as you would think, but you will need a good chunk of time at home to do it. Most of that will be waiting for the dough to rise or bake, but you will want to be around during all of it.
I have made a lot of bread in my life, and this was definitely the best French bread I have ever made. I have tried many recipes and always had medium to fine success, but this was one was a real winner, and--in the bread world--it was really straightforward.
The Perfect French Bread:
Makes 1 medium loaf
adapted slightly from Taste of Home
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup very warm (not boiling) water
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs soft unrefined coconut oil
1 tsp sea salt
3 - 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
semolina flour or cornmeal for sprinkling
1. Assemble your ingredients, and combine your yeast, water, and a pinch of the sugar to get your yeast activated.
2. Once yeast is ready, in a large mixing bowl, combine your yeast mixture, the rest of the sugar, oil, salt, and 1 cup of the flour.
3. Stir to combine, but don't stir up completely. Add another cup of the flour and keep stirring.
4. Keep adding the flour, and once you have about 1/2 a cup left to put in, only add about a tablespoon at a time until your dough looks roughly like this:
5. Once it is to this point, sprinkle with flour, remove any rings from your fingers and the spatula from the bowl, and begin kneading it with one hand. Here is a 60 second video showing the way that I knead dough.
6. Once your dough is formed into a nice smooth, elastic ball, that is no longer sticky, put it in a greased bowl (I usually just grease the bowl I have been using to knead), and cover it with a damp towel.
7. Let it rise in a warmish place for about 1 hour, until it has roughly doubled in size.
8. Lightly punch dough with your fist, to release some of the air, then cover it again, and let it rise for another 30 minutes.
9. Once it has risen a second time, punch the dough down again, and prepare your silicone mat (you could also use parchment paper) for baking, by sprinkling it lightly with semolina flour or cornmeal.
10. Sprinkle the dough with a small amount of flour, if it is sticky, and remove the dough from the bowl. With your hands shape it into a small loaf (a rounded rectangular shape) and place it on the silicone mat.
11. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for another 30 minutes until the loaf is about doubled in size.
12. VERY carefully, cut 3 slices in the top, with an extremely sharp knife. If you press too hard with the knife, you will push all the air out of your bread, and it will get flat and dense as it cooks.
13. Preheat your oven to 375°F and cook the loaf on a pizza stone, or on the rack for 25 - 30 minutes.
14. Once the loaf is golden brown, and sounds hollow when you knock on it, remove it from the oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. Move to a cooling rack and let cool for another 15 minutes.
There is nothing quite as delicious as warm, homemade bread with butter. Enjoy!