Homemade Classic French Bread

It is beginning to look a lot like fall - can you feel it in the air? Soon enough we will be able to turn our ovens on and bake and there is nothing thriftier then making your own bread. It really is inexpensive and is not hard at all. This is a perfect Sunday afternoon project and it will yield four loaves so you will have bread for an entire week. Well that is if you don't slather it with butter right out of the oven and eat an entire loaf on the spot.

Find the ingredients and directions after the jump.

2-1/2 cups warm water
2 Tablespoons yeast (or 2 packages)
2 Tablespoons salt
6 cups of unbleached flour + some for dusting surface
2 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Wax paper
Metal bowl
Rolling Pin
Razor Blade
French Bread Pans

Heat Oven to 400 degrees
In a metal mixing bowl, in this order, put:
2-1/2 Cups warm water, 2 Tablespoons Yeast (or 2 packages) Whisk until blended.

Add 2 tablespoons salt, whisk until everything is dissolved, about 1 minute. Next, add 1 cup of unbleached flour, whisk. Add another cup of unbleached flour, whisk. Add a third cup of unbleached flour, whisk. At this point the whisk will be hard to use but keep whisking until the mixture is smooth. Now add two more cups of unbleached flour. Use a wooden spoon to mix in these last two cups of flour.

If the dough is sticking to the spoon, add increments of a 1/4 Cup Flour (up to one more cup). Scrape all the bits off the sided of the bowl and incorporate. Turn out dough ball onto a surface lightly dusted with flour. Kneed the for 8 to 10 minutes, lightly dusting the work surface so the bread doesn't stick. (Be careful to use the minimum amount of flour when kneading. Only use enough to keep it from being sticky)

Next, coat bottom of mixing bowl with 2 Tablespoon vegetable oil. Put dough ball in bowl, make sure dough is evenly coated with oil. Cover with a piece of wax paper and set aside to rise. Allow dough rise by 2 times its original size. Punch down the dough, with your fist, after it has risen. Take dough out of bowl and put on working surface, Cut dough ball into 4 equal parts. With each smaller piece, roll out, with a rolling pin, into triangle shape with a wide base (See TIPS below). Starting at the tip of the triangle roll the dough over on to itself, effectively making a long french roll.

Pinch the seam shut and place in a french bread pan. Repeat for all dough balls (there should be 4 total). Use a razor blade to score the tops of the bread.

Set pans aside and let the loaves rise to twice their size.

When ready to put in the oven (which has bee pre-heated to 400):
Reduce the oven to 375, Put bread pans in, Bake for 20 minutes. Test for done-ness by rapping on crust with a finger, if it sounds hollow the bread it done. Remove from oven and let cool completely before wrapping. Or, dive right in! Cut at a 45 degree angle to get larger pieces - as the French do!

• For a crustier crust (classic French style):
Place a pan of water in bottom of oven at preheat time, glaze loaf tops with an egg/water solution and spritz oven with a water bottle when the bread goes in, then every 5 minutes until done.
• Buy commercial yeast, it works faster and better then those little packets.
• Store yeast in the freezer and flour in the refrigerator.
• Don't use bread flour (this stuff is for bread machines)
• The bread is done kneading when it no longer sticks to itself
• Rolling pin: touch and lift, touch and lift. Don't roll so much as lift. Start at the middle and work out left and right. When dough is about a 12 inch oblong shape, roll up to form the top of the triangle
• You want the dough to be barely sticky (Don't use too much flour)
• If you are not ready or your oven isn't up to heat, keep punching it down, with fists, and letting it re-rise
• If bread isn't done in 20 minutes, put back in oven at slightly lower temp (5 degrees lower) repeat this as needed. Every oven is different.