Dana Treat – Treat Yourself

Holly B’s French Bread

Posted September 8, 2009

French Bread
With Love and Butter
Makes 3 loaves

1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp. quick-rise yeast
7/8 cup unbleached flour

2 3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup biga (stir down before measuring)
1 3/4 tsp. quick-rise yeast
7 cups unbleached flour
4 tsp. salt
Cornmeal for baking sheet

Cornstarch Glaze
1/2 cold water
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch

Note:  You will need to prepare the biga for the French Bread at least 2 hours in advance.  I recommend doing this step the night before.  Also note that this dough does not rise a second time.

At least 2 hours before you wish to start your French Bread, mix together the water, yeast and flour for the biga.  The biga should have the consistency of thick pancake batter.  If too stiff or loose, adjust by adding a touch more water or flour.  Mix until smooth.  Scrape into a lidded container at least twice the volume of the batter.  Let the biga stand to room temperature at least 2 hours and up to overnight.  The biga can now be used for French Bread or stored up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Place the water, 1/4 cup biga, yeast, 4 cups of flour, and salt, in that order, in a big bowl.  Stir with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Add the remaining 3 cups of flour and continue mixing until stiff, then continue with your floured hands to mix and knead the dough into a ball.  Continue kneading for 5 to 10 minutes adding flour as needed until the dough forms a smooth ball.  (HB: I always try to do this within the big bowl to cut down on cleanup, but you can turn everything onto a clean counter and do your kneading there.  DT: I used the dough hook of my stand mixer.)  You should end up with a smooth round ball about the firmness of a baby’s bottom (or anyone’s bottom who isn’t very thin).  If the dough is too stiff, work in some water; if too sticky, work in some extra flour.

Lightly oil the bowl and place the dough back inside.  Cover with plastic wrap or a dishtowel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 425°F with the oven rack in the middle position, and sprinkle a large baking sheet with cornmeal.  Prepare the glaze by whisking water and cornstarch together in a small saucepan and heating on medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Punch the dough down and turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Using floured hands, divide the dough into 3 pieces.  Don’t work the dough – leave it puffy.

Place one of the pieces of dough before you on your lightly floured work surface.  using the heel of your hands, flatten the dough into a rectangle with the long side running left to right.  Now fold the dough lengthwise and seal the seam with the heels of your hands.  Roll and snake out the loaf to fit the length of the pan, and place seam-down on the cornmealed baking sheet.  Slash each loaf five times with a sharp knife and brush the tops with the cornstarch glaze.  (No, this dough does not rise again before baking!)

Bake the loaves 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 10 minutes.  When done the leaves will be golden brown and crisp.  If blond and limp, bake an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Greek Olive or Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 cup pitted Greek Kalamata olives or sun-dried tomato halves (not packed in oil)
Salt (Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade only)
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. brandy
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

If using sun-dried tomatoes, put them in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.  After 5 minutes, drain off the water and pat the tomatoes dry with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and proceed with the recipe.

Place the olives or tomatoes and all the ramaining ingredients into a food processor fitted with the steel knife blade.  Pulse until chopped and combined, but leave the tapenade somewhat chunky.  You want some texture, not a smooth paste.  Tapenade will keep several week in the refrigerator or several months in the freezer.

Using in the bread:
Before folding and sealing your loaves, smear 3 tablespoons of tapenade down the center of the rectangle of flattened-out dough.  Then fold over the dough, pinch together, and snake out the loaf to the appropriate length.

Before folding and sealing

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