When I tell people I make my own bread, often I find myself looking back at a blank stare of confusion and disbelief. Both in Spain and Turkey many people said things like, “But why, when you can just buy it?” To them I reply, “It is the principal of the thing. I bake therefore, I am.”
Here is a simple recipe for french bread that my mother and I used to make and now I am carrying on the tradition.
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 Tablespoon of butter (room temperature)
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cornmeal
Grease a bowl with some cooking oil. This doesn’t seem to make much sense but it soon will. Hang in there. Pour the warm water into the bowl. Be sure it is about 38 degrees C (100 F). If it is too hot it will kill the yeast, resulting in no new yeasty babies, ultimately culminating in decidedly flat bread. Usually if you can stick your finger in and it doesn’t hurt, the water is not too hot.
Pour the yeast in on top of the water. Add the sugar and give your mixture a little twirl with a fork or whisk.
Let it sit for a few minutes. Go check your email, watch the BBC or read a magazine article. When you come back, you will see a naughty little orgy of yeast, eating and reproducing faster than you can say, fall of the Roman Empire.
Sprinkle in your salt and add about half of the flour. Now add the butter and begin to mix it with a spoon. As the flour mixes in, add more until you have none left.
The dough should be soft and pliable but not sticky. If it is sticky, add more flour. My Turkish friend always told me that you are looking for the consistency of an earlobe when you touch it. Who touches earlobes on a regular basis? Anyway, don’t touch your own earlobe to test while your hands are covered in dough. Been there.
Here come the hard part. You have to cover the bowl with a towel and leave it to rise for an hour and 15 minutes. Try to keep it somewhere warm. Mom puts it by the fireplace.
Once that’s done, throw the dough onto a flat surface and kneed it for a few minutes. Then divide it in half and roll into two 14 inch long loaves. Hey, it’s starting to look like bread, huh? If you have them, put the loaves in baguette pans, shown below. If not, find something with sides on it like a 13 X 9 pan or something. A cookie sheet works but the bread will flatten out a lot.
Make cuts along the top of the loaves and let rise, uncovered for about 45 minutes.
Bake at 180 C (375 F) for approximately 20-25 minutes.
At this point your house will smell great. Enjoy.