7 cups bread flour
2 1/2 cups water (115º )
2 packets of yeast or 4 1/2 tsp. yeast
2 tbls. melted butter
1 tbls. salt
cornmeal for dusting
Large glass bowl
The most important thing when working with yeast is temperature, water temperature and air temperature. Once you've got this down the sky is the limit with bread making. Always make sure your water temperature is between 110° and 119°. You don't want it under 110° because the yeast will not activate and you don't want it above 120° because you will kill the yeast. I use a little temp. gauge that my husband bought for meat. Hey, don't laugh it works.
Heat the 2 1/2 cups of water in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave. 1. While you're doing that sift all 7 cups of flour into the mixer bowl. 2. Create a well in the center of the sifted flour using your 1 cup measuring utensil. 3. Add the 4 1/2 tsp. of yeast and the 1 tbsp. of salt to the well and then pour about a 1/2 cup of the warmed water over that. 4. Wait a few minutes and let your yeast activate. Then add the remainder of the water and the 2 tbsp. of melted butter. It is really important to check the date on yeast packets. If your yeast is expired your bread will look expired and tired too!
5 - 8. Now let the machine do its job. Make sure it's fitted with the dough hook and put it on medium speed. Watch the dough. Once it starts to come together you can let the machine knead it for another minute and then remove the dough from the bowl and put it onto your clean, lightly floured counter top. This is where you'll knead by hand until it forms a smooth ball. This won't take long because the mixer did the tough work.
9 - 12. Spray the large bowl that you will be using to let the dough rise with a non-stick baking spray like Crisco or Pam. Place the dough ball into the bowl, spray lightly with a bit more of the Crisco and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Now here is where you have to be mindful of the air temperature. You want to keep your bowl warm. What I do and you can do this too if you have a glass cook top with a warming burner. I turn the warming burner on lowest setting and set the bowl with the bread dough just to the side of the burner. You don't want your bowl directly on top of the burner because it will begin to bake the outer layer of the dough and it's not baking time yet.
You will know when your dough is ready to roll up into loaves when it has more than doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 1 - 2 hrs. depending on where you live geographically and the temperature of your home. The photo marked with a number 10. is of dough that is ready to be worked with. Simply dump it out onto a lightly floured surface, use a large, sharp knife to cut it exactly in half. Now to shape the dough for baking...
13. You want to roll the first half into a large rectangle as seen in the photo's below. 14. Once you've got the rectangular shape, 15. start rolling it towards your body. You want to keep the roll tight to avoid large air pockets while it's baking. 16. Now that it's all rolled up, pinch the seams together and tidy up the end of the loaf. Now do the same with the second half of the dough.
Place both loaves on a baking stone that has been dusted with cornmeal. This keeps the bread from sticking to the stone once it's finished baking.
Now put the stone right back on the stove top warming burner and cover the loaves with a large, lightweight, cotton, dishcloth. Let the dough rise a second time until it's more than doubled in size. It will fill up your baking stone. Use a very sharp, serrated knife to make 3-4 diagonal slits in the loaves before putting them into your 450° oven to bake for 25 minutes. Be sure to use a light hand when making the diagonal slits. You don't want to press down or the dough will fall.
The finished product is two large loaves of warm and delicious bread that your whole family will love!!!
p.s. If you want a harder crust... whisk up a single egg white and 1 tbsp. of water. When the oven timer has gone off at the 25 minute mark, brush the surface of the bread with the egg white mixture and pop it back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes. The finished product will be bread with a harder crust and a warm, soft center.
Our friends and neighbors gave us some freshly picked peaches and I had some basil in my little garden and some fresh mozzarella in my fridge so this is what I made this evening using the french bread. A fresh mozzarella, peach and basil pressed sandwich. If I would have had some honey I would have drizzled that on as well.
I hope you're inspired! Now go bake some bread.