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July 14, 2008

Quick and Easy French Bread

Quick and Easy French Bread

A few weeks ago when Jamison's parents were here we had lasagna and I wanted a nice loaf (or two!) of bread to go with the meal. Running short on time in all the prep for Alexis' Tinkerbell cake and party I decided to just whip up some of my own!

This bread is quick and easy in that you literally just throw together the starter and let it sit all day, then you add more flour and shape it into loaves, slash, let it rise for thirty minutes to an hour and then bake. There is NO kneading what so ever! You could throw together the starter before you go to work and shape the loaves when you got home and you'd have delicious homemade bread ready when your meal was! How easy is that?

What You'll Need for the Starter:
1 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons of yeast
2 cups of warm water

In a glass bowl mix together flour, salt and yeast until incorporated. Stir in hot water and let sit covered to proof at room temperature for 6-8 hours.

After about an hour you'll see bubbling action:

Quick and Easy French Bread: Proofing

After about 6 hours you'll see that the starter has proofed up the side of the bowl even further:

Quick and Easy French Bread: Proofed

When you get to this stage you're ready to proceed to making the actual loaves.

What You'll Need to Make the Loaves:
1 proofed starter (See above)
2-4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour

Slowly add flour 1 cup at a time stirring with a wooden spoon until dough forms. Your dough should look like this:

Quick and Easy French Bread: Dough

Depending on the humidity you may need some or all or the flour, or even need to add just a bit more. Bread is finicky like that, or more aptly flour is. Don't worry if you don't need to add all of the flour or even if you need a bit more than 4 cups. When you dough is soft and springy you'll know to stop.

Place the dough ball on a floured surface and then cut it in two and shape into two long loaves. Place on a baking sheet that has been lined with a silicone baking sheet:

Quick and Easy French Bread: Ready to Slash and Rise

Next comes slashing. I like to make the slashes on the top of the loaves BEFORE they rise. If you wait until after it has risen you take the risk of deflating your lovely loaves and let's face it who wants to do that? Using a very sharp knife place 3-4 slashes across the top of each loaf:

Quick and Easy French Bread: Slashed and Ready to Rise

Place sheet in a warm place to rise for thirty minutes to an hour. It took these loaves about thirty minutes to rise. I placed them in my oven with the light on. The light gives off just enough heat to make them rise nicely. When they have doubled in size as shown below you're ready to bake!

Quick and Easy French Bread: Risen

Once the loaves are risen preheat oven to 425 F.

Place the risen loaves into the preheat oven and spray with a few spritzes of water from a spray bottle. Repeat this process several times throughout the baking process. I like to spritz the loaves every 5-8 minutes while baking. It helps give a lovely crust.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until loaves are golden. Let cool 5 minutes and then they are ready to slice and serve!

Quick and Easy French Bread: Baked

Notes: I want to try this process in the near future with white whole wheat flour. Some might debate the term "quick" but in terms of actually making the loaves it is very quick. You can basically ignore the starter all day and then once you're ready to make the loaves throw the rest together. That's the very epitome of quick and easy when you're talking about bread! ;o)

Posted by Dianne at July 14, 2008 7:02 AM

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ooh -- I am SO making a loaf of this for dinner tonight. Probably will half the recipe, though -- should still work, right? :)

Do you measure the temp of your water for the starter? I'm always afraid I'll have it too hot or too cool.

Posted by: katherine at July 14, 2008 9:38 AM

The water should be just above room temperature, just slightly warm, not hot, but not cold. :o)

Halving it would be ok too.

Posted by: Dianne at July 14, 2008 9:41 AM

If you put white flour in the starter, could you add some whole wheat flour to the 2-4 cups you add after the starter is finished?
You add all the starter to the recipe, you don't keep any of it? That's different from sour dough recipes.

Posted by: mums at July 14, 2008 11:36 AM

In theory that should work. I haven't tested it with whole wheat flour, but I do want to experiment with white whole wheat flour the next time I make some.

As for the "starter" it's just for the loaf you are making so no need to keep any of it as you can just mix it up again next time. French bread usually isn't as strong flavor wise as sour dough. If you kept the started you'd end up with more of a sour dough loaf than basic mild French bread.

Posted by: Dianne at July 14, 2008 11:41 AM

me again -- what happens if you don't/can't spritz it? (you know, if, say, you have a very unhappy baby who screamed while you were getting the soup going so you don't really want to drag him back in the kitchen every 5 minutes, and you realized you didn't have a spritz bottle anyway . . . hypothetically speaking) :oP

Posted by: katherine at July 14, 2008 7:20 PM

The crust won't be as chewy, but the bread should still work. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at July 14, 2008 7:24 PM

Ooh, I'm looking forward to trying this! I've been making an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation (and then some, I think) of the NYT no-knead bread, and it's pretty similar to this, but I can't ever get the dough to hold a shape.

Katherine, I usually put an out-of-commission baking dish into the bottom of the oven while I pre-heat it. Then, right after I put the bread in to bake, I dump a cup of water into the preheated oven and close the door quickly. The steam creates a similar effect to the spritzing, from what I gather.

Posted by: Amanda at July 16, 2008 1:25 PM

Hope you enjoy it! I really do!

That's a fabulous idea with the dish of water!

Posted by: Dianne at July 16, 2008 1:34 PM

The whole wheat flour did fine -- I think. My bread was still a bit, well, wide rather than tall. But mine did that last time with the plain flour. I think my yeast may be a bit flat.

Posted by: katherine at August 5, 2008 8:43 AM

It could be the yeast or you may have a bit too much water to flour ratio.

Posted by: Dianne at August 5, 2008 12:47 PM

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