Y'all, I signed my baby up for kindergarten yesterday. *Sniffles* I know it happens and I know he has to grow up but some things are just hard on a Momma. He's my baby. I know you parents know what I'm talking about. You love watching your kids blossom into the people they are supposed to be while inside a piece of you just cries out to keep them little forever. What does this have to do with my next post? Absolutely nothing but I felt a need to share and because I drove away from the school yesterday with a huge lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. It was a mother's moment. Shew! Now that I got that off of my chest I can finally talk about bread!
On my continuing quest to make bread, I ventured into the world of french bread a while back. I'm not sure how many of you own a bread machine but I purchased mine a couple of years ago at Wal-mart. I think it cost about 50 bucks and it has been one of my best kitchen helpers (next to Alex, who doesn't so much help but prefers to make a mess, but it's all good, they're only little once, right?) Now the funny part - I never actually make bread IN the machine. I let the bread machine mix the ingredients, knead the dough, and give the dough the first rising. But I've never actually made a loaf in there. I take the dough out after the first rising, shape it into what I need and then do the second rising in a slightly warmed oven. I just like the bread machine so much because it does most of the hard stuff and it takes a lot of the guess work out for me. I use it for so many things - from breads to cinnamon roll dough. If you don't have a bread machine, don't worry. I'm not expecting you to go out and buy a kitchen gadget just to make good bread. You can do this by hand too. And don't let the simple ingredients fool you. I am a believer that sometimes the most simple and rustic of ingredients almost always produce a better food.
1 1/4 cups very warm water
3 ½ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 package of active dry yeast
Place above ingredients in your bread machine according to manufacturer’s directions - mine requires that I put wet ingredients in first then dry. Start machine on dough setting. Quick tip: I usually take a peak at my dough in the first 10 minutes or so to make sure all the flour is getting incorporated into the dough. Sometimes I just need to scrape down the sides a bit. After that, I leave it alone. When dough cycle is complete (usually about an hour to an hour and a half), remove dough and place on floured surface.
Preheat oven to 200F degrees (you’re going to put your loaves in the preheated oven to rise). Once oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. Cut dough ball in half and roll each loaf out (or save one dough ball for later use and put in freezer) to about 12 inches long in the shape of french bread.
Cut three small slices on top of bread and place loaves on a greased baking sheet (just spray evenly with Pam). Cover with a clean dish towel and place into warmed oven. Allow the loaves rise until doubled, about an hour.
Take loaves out and preheat oven to 450F degrees. Bake loaves for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, turning the pan around once halfway during baking. Remove loaves when finished baking and allow to cool on wire racks.
* If you are doing this by hand, mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until combined. Take dough out and place on floured surface and knead dough for about 8-10 minutes (until dough is smooth and elastic). Put dough into lightly greased oven proof bowl and cover with a clean dish towel. Preheat oven to 200F degrees and then turn off. Allow dough to rise in the warmed oven until doubled in size (about 45 min. to an hour). Then continue with above directions to finish making the bread.
Cook’s Note: I usually get the jar of Fleischmann’s Yeast for the Bread Machine and keep it stored in the fridge. If you are using yeast from a jar, give your jar a good shake and then measure out 2 ¼ teaspoons of yeast for this recipe. Also, you just need to use table salt for this recipe. Kosher salt granules will be a little too large to use here.