Wednesday, April 2, 2014

We love bread (frugal French bread recipe)

We eat a lot of bread around here.  A lot.

And people claim that bread is not good for you.  Isn't it the French who eat a lot of bread, yet they're pretty thin?  Or maybe the Italians eat a lot of bread.  Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

It's probably the latter.

Now, I make most of the bread we eat; sandwich bread, French bread, rolls, what have you.  Please don’t think I am bragging, because I’m not.

First of all, I like to bake.  It’s fun.  I guess I would call it one of my hobbies.  I just like to do it.

Second of all, it’s cheaper than buying from the store.  And I’m all about saving some money!  I can make two loaves of French bread for about $1.20, which is $0.60 per loaf.  And that's even using some whole wheat flour; all purpose flour is much cheaper.

I know the current price for one loaf of French bread at a local grocery store is $1.99.  Walmart may be a little cheaper but I haven't checked in a long time, and I bet it's not much cheaper.

So, I’m saving about $1.39 per loaf!  (That doesn't include the cost of using my oven.  But I don’t think it would amount to $1.39.)

Third of all, making my own bread cuts out all of the weird and hard-to-pronounce ingredients that are in store bought items.  This page lists all of the ingredients in the french bread sold at Walmart.  I counted 27 ingredients.  Uhhh, my bread contains five.  Well, six if you count the two types of flour.

Fourth of all, I think it just tastes better.

Now, about two years ago I would've told you that I was deathly (I couldn't think of another word to use here) afraid of yeast.  I had tried to make yeast bread before.

And I failed.  Miserably.

But I really wanted to learn how to make bread (again, to me it just seemed like fun), and after many more failed attempts, I finally got the hang of it.

Making yeast bread, whether it’s sandwich bread, dinner rolls, French bread, etc., takes practice.  But I highly recommend giving it a go.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that difficult and not as time-consuming as people think (there's very little hands-on time; maybe 15 minutes; the rest is waiting).  And you'll save some money.  Win-win.

Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t use too much flour!  This one is a biggie.  This is the main reason I failed when I first tried to make bread.  Too much flour makes the bread really dense.  More than likely, you won’t use the full amount of flour called for in a bread recipe.
  • Don’t kill the yeast!  Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the liquids called for in a recipe.  Liquids that are too hot will kill the yeast and liquids that are too cold will hinder the yeast and in both cases the dough won’t rise.
  • Don’t let your bread rise too much.  This is mainly for the second rise.  If the loaf rises too much, then it will deflate when it bakes.  Which really makes no sense.
  • Don’t use too much flour!  (Oh wait, I said that already.  It’s important.)

So, with that in mind, here is the recipe I use for French bread.  I usually use half whole wheat flour and half all purpose flour.  I've made it using all whole wheat with good results, but find that half and half yields a softer loaf, which we prefer for French bread.  You could always use all white flour, too, if you wanted (which would make your bread even cheaper to make).

Did I mention the cheapness of the bread?

Here is the recipe first, then some pictures!

French Bread (makes two loaves but it can be cut in half)

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour (or all purpose)
4 ½ tsp yeast
1 tbls sugar
1 tbls salt
2 ½ cups water
2 – 3 cups additional flour (all purpose or whole wheat)

Method (please don't be intimidated; I am trying to be as clear as possible!):
  1. Heat the water to at least 120° but no more than 130°.  I usually do this in the microwave. 
  2. In a large bowl (you could use a stand mixer, which I do quite often, but opted to go by hand this time) mix the 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.
  3. Pour the water into the flour mixture and mix well.
  4. Add more flour, about ½ cup at a time, and mix well.  Once you've added around 2 cups of additional flour, start adding only a couple of tablespoons at a time until you have a soft ball of dough that’s not sticking to the bowl or your hands too much.  This additional flour is mainly to keep the dough from being too sticky.
  5. While adding the small amounts of flour, knead the dough by folding it over on itself and pressing it down.  Then turn the bowl and do it again.  Then turn the bowl and do it again.  Then turn the bowl and do it again.  Then…where was I?  Oh yeah.  Turn the bowl and do it again.  Now, most recipes will say to knead for 8-10 minutes, but I usually only knead for about 5 minutes.  (You could always do all of this on your counter instead of in the bowl.  For me, it’s just less cleanup to do it in the bowl.)
  6. When you have a lovely ball of dough that’s fairly smooth and not too sticky, take it out and sprinkle a little flour all over the bottom of the bowl, then put the dough back in.  Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough then cover it with a towel (or you could oil the bowl and roll the dough around to cover it with the oil; I do that a lot, too).
  7. Leave the dough alone for about an hour to let it rise until doubled.  You want a somewhat warm place to let it rise, or it will take a lot longer than an hour.  I usually turn my oven on at 350° and let it preheat for 20 seconds or so, just to get the oven warm, and let the dough rise in there.
  8. After the dough has doubled, punch it down (seriously, punch it), take it out, and knead it a couple of times on a floured surface.
  9. Divide the dough in two, roll each piece out, and then roll each up tightly into a loaf.
  10. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.  (I’m thinking you don’t have to use the cornmeal if you don’t want to.)  Cover and let the loaves rise until almost doubled.  This time it will only take around 30 minutes.
  11. Preheat the oven to 400° (I do this about halfway through the second rise because it takes my oven 15 or so minutes to preheat.)
  12. Once the loaves have almost doubled, you can slash the tops with a sharp knife.  I repeat, with a sharp knife.  If it’s not sharp, and you have to press down too hard, the loaves may deflate.  I then brush each loaf with water (egg wash instead of water will make it crustier) and if I feel like it, I’ll sprinkle the loaves with something.  This time I sprinkled one of the loaves with some garlic salt, oregano, and basil.  You could use other seasonings or sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds or whatever your fancy.
  13. Bake the loaves for 15-20 minutes until they reach 190°.  Insert that thermometer into the center of the loaf.
  14. Eat.  Actually, you’re supposed to let the loaves cool before you cut into them; something about them being gummy or what not, I don’t know.  But, I've cut into them straight out of the oven before and they've been fine.

She is such a goob.  Here are the first 4 ingredients.

Mixing it up!

Adding the water.

Gotta mix it up really, really well here.

Adding more flour.

Getting a little more difficult to stir!

Okay, so we've added around 1 1/2 to 2 cups of additional flour here and the dough is really sticky, but it's not smooth.  It needs more flour, but at this point it's too thick to be stirred by a spoon.  Time to use our hands! 

I just kneaded the dough in the bowl, that way I didn't make a big mess to clean up on the counter. 

At this point I had kneaded the dough for several minutes, and it wasn't that sticky anymore.

The dough kept sticking to Izzy's hands and it bothered her so she didn't knead much.

Here's the pretty dough before I covered it up to let it rise.

And here it is after about an hour.  Beautiful :)

Already punched down and kneaded a little on a floured countertop.  This was a little too-floured.

Cut it in half.

Roll one of the dough balls out.

And roll it up.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Oh wait, that's for something else.
Just repeat with the other dough ball.

Before second rising.

After second rising.

Then slash and put herbs on it if you wish.

After baking.  They rose a little more in the oven.

So at this point, we let them cool, and ate on the loaf on the right.  It lasted us about 2 or 3 days.

I cut the other loaf in half (again after it was completely cooled) and froze it.

Go make some bread, y'all!  It's fun!  And it's cheap!  I think I said that already.

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