|4½ cup||High-gluten bread flour|
|4½ cup||Unbleached all-purpose flour|
|2 tablespoons||Salt (preferably sea salt)|
|2 tablespoons||Active dry yeast|
|Polenta (coarse cornmeal)|
Proof active dry yeast in 4 tablespoons tepid water.
You can use tiles or a baking stone if you wish. Just remember that if you make round loaves they will require about 5 to 10 more minutes longer to bake and to cool down than will baguettes.
MIXING AND KNEADING: Mix all the ingredients except the polenta in a bowl (reserving a little water for adjustments) until the mixture can be formed into a ball. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter, turn out the dough and knead it for 10 to 12 minutes, spraying a little water on if the dough is too dry and adding a little flour if the dough is too wet. The dough should become tacky but not sticky and have a nice elasticity.
Clean the bowl, shape the loaf into a ball and return the dough to it (it needn't be oiled.) Cover with either a damp towel or plastic wrap. Leave the dough out at room temperature or in the oven with no pilot or light. Let it rise for about 1½ hours. Press 2 damp fingertips ½" into the dough. If the dough shows resistance, let it rise a bit more, if the indentations remain completely, it is ready to deflate. If the dough kind of sighs and sinks beneath your fingertips, it has probably risen a bit too much (so deflate it.) Deflate it without tearing the gluten. Reshape it into a ball and let it rise again, deflate, reshape and let it rise a 3rd time.
FORMING LOAVES: Cut the dough into 2 pieces for flutes or rounds and 4 pieces for baguettes. To make flutes or baguettes, roll out each piece of dough into a long rectangle. Fold it into 3rds, from top to bottom, and roll it out again, keeping the seam on the bottom. Fold the rectangle into 3rds again, crimping the seams with your fingers so that it will not open. The goal is to create a firm surface tension that allows the bread to rise without spreading out sidewise.
If the dough becomes too tough to roll, let it rest, covered, for about 3 or 4 minutes. This lets the gluten relax and then the dough should be more compliant. If it begins to dry out, spray it with water. Sprinkle a baking pan or French bread molds with polenta to prevent the loaves from sticking and give the bottom a nice crackle.
Do not oil the pan as this will brown the bottom of the loaf prematurely. Place the baguette or flute, seam side down, on the pan.
TO MAKE ROUNDS: If making rounds, roll out the dough into a long rectangle and fold it up in 3rds, as if making flutes. Before rolling it out again, turn the parcel of dough so that the folds are running vertically and the open ends are horizontal and paralel with your rolling pin. Roll out the dough again into a rectangle. Fold it into 3rds again, from top to bottom and create a ball of dough by bending the parcel round so that the 2 open ends meet underneath and can be crimped together to make one seam. Hold the ball in your hand, smooth it out and pinch the open ends together to seal them at the bottom.
This bottom should sit on the baking pan on top of a good sized sprinkling of polenta.
After forming the loaves, space them far enough apart to allow room for rising, and cover the loaves with either a damp towel or plastic wrap. Allow the loaves approximately 1 hour to rise at room temperature or after 5 minutes, put them in the refrigerator to rise overnight.
BAKING: When you are ready to bake , slash the tops of the loaves either diagonally (3 slashes are useually sufficient) or, for round loaves, in a tic-tac-toe pattern or an asterisk pattern. Spray the loaves with cold water and place them in a preheated 425 degree F.
oven. After 2 minutes, quickly spray them again-repeating this process (spritzing every 2 minutes) 4 times. You may want to rotate pans 180 degrees after the final spray if the oven is baking unevenly. About 10 minutes after the last spray look at the loaves.
If they appear golden brown and done, turn off the oven and allow the loaves to cool in a cooling oven for 10 more minutes. Total cooking time is 26-30 minutes for baguettes and up to 40 minutes for larger loaves. Cooking time varies according to both the size of the loaves and variations in ovens. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool for between 20 and 45 minutes and serve.
This is absolutely the best home made French Bread I have ever come across.
Method by Brother Juniper as interpreted by Mary Riemerman Submitted By MARY RIEMERMAN On 02-16-95
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