I woke up this morning to rain, again. There is nothing I like more on a rainy day than a hot cup of coffee and a game of cards with my mom. Since Mom is 14 hours away, I had to settle for the thing I like second best on a gloomy day. Baking. And today this loaf of perfectly crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside French bread helped me beat the rainy day blues.
Since I bake a yeast dough at least once a week, I don’t worry too much about my yeast expiring before I use it, but I always start my dough by proofing my yeast. Mix the warm water, honey and yeast together and let it sit. After 15 minutes, it should be foamy. If it isn’t, your yeast is dead. Toss it, and start over with new yeast. This is mine today.
After the yeast proofs, add your flour, salt and cracked black pepper. I add the first two cups of flour using the paddle attachment on my mixer and then switch to the dough hook to incorporate the rest. The dough will look shaggy after the first two cups – something like this.
Then, add flour until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. When you touch it, it should still feel sticky, but your fingers should come away clean. Form the dough into a ball and put it in the bowl (or a clean bowl if you must, I just don’t like dishes). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to cold proof for at least 4 hours (you can leave it on the counter and let it rise until double – or about one hour, but the texture will be slightly different). Today I only had 4 hours since I wanted to serve it with dinner, but it could sit overnight. Take the dough out of the fridge an hour before you are ready to cook it and an hour and a half before you need to take it out of the oven. Here is my dough before proofing and then after.
Gently remove the dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide in half and form each half into a round loaf. I do this by gently stretching my dough into a square and folding the corners in. I do this a couple of times then pinch the edges together and place the pinched side down on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the loaves and let rise again until at least double.
Brush the loaves with an egg wash and use a sharp knife to cut 2 or 3 slits in the top of each loaf. Place bread in a hot oven, pour about a cup of water in a pan at the bottom of the oven to create steam (helps form a crisper crust). Turn the oven temperature down and bake. Before baking.
Slice and enjoy.
1 – .25 ounce package instant dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
3 Tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
4-5 cups all purpose flour
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon water
Add yeast, water and honey to mixing bowl. Stir until yeast is dissolved and let stand for 10-15 minutes, until frothy. Using the paddle attachment, add salt, black pepper and 2 cups of the flour. Remove the paddle attachment and put on the dough hook. Stir in more flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball. When you touch the dough, it should feel sticky, but leave your fingers clean. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover and place in the fridge to proof at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
An hour before baking, remove the dough from the fridge. Gently remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Shape each part into a round loaf. Pat dough into a square and fold corners into the middle. Pinch seams closed and place seam side down on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover shaped loaves with a clean, damp towel and set in a warm place to rise for an hour. Thirty minutes into the rise time pre-heat oven to 425*. Place a metal baking pan on the oven floor.
When the oven is hot, mix egg white and water together until completely incorporated (no slimy strings). Brush the tops of both loaves with the egg wash. Use a sharp knife to cut 2 or 3 slits in the top of each loaf. Place bread in the oven and pour about 1 cup of water into the hot metal pan on the oven floor. Bake for 5 minutes and then reduce oven temperature to 375*. Bake for 20-25 minutes more until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!