Saturday, March 2, 2013

French Bread

At this time of the year I think all of us get a bit anxious for warmer days and fresh air. But today is anything but warm and the only fresh air I'm breathing is because of my extremely efficient allergen reducing filter on the central heating unit. I get the blah's this time of year, too. And I hate getting the blah's. Plus, I'm really missing Mama now, another layer of grief that comes inevitably, I'm afraid. Having a part of her around me in a tangible way was a desire I had when I awakened today. Up in the virtual unreachable recesses of my dish cabinet are a couple of heirlooms that came to me by way of her. Channeling my sad mood into a protracted culinary venture usually proves to help tremendously. Bread making in an old bowl sounds gratifying and it's a fairly lengthy process. That's it! Making homemade bread gives me respite from anything around me that's not good for me, so here goes.

French Bread

1 packet yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2-1/2 cups warm water
(105 to 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon plain salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
6-7 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white
Heirloom Pottery Bowl

I love the swirl in the bottom of the old bowl.

Just like me it has flaws.
It's been chipped for as long as I can remember.
This bowl belonged to my Mammy Lott, my paternal grandmother. Mama acquired it as a Lott family kitchen heirloom, used it for biscuit/cornbread/dumpling making and then several years ago gave it to me. I absolutely love it but I don't use it often for fear of breaking it. But today I carefully removed it from its place, washed it in warm soapy water and set to my soul satisfying task. No electric bread maker for me; in fact I didn't even use my stand mixer to mix and knead the dough. I wanted just me, my old bowl, a little yeast, a bunch of flour and some old fashioned hand kneading.

A slurry of 1 package of yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2-1/2 cups warm water.
And I used Mammy Lott's old wooden jelly making spoon.

Look closely, the yeast is 'proofing' here.
The bubbles are little yeast critters blooming.

After the yeast mixture has been sitting for about 10 to 15 minutes it's then time to add 1 tablespoon of table salt, 1 tablespoon sugar plus 2 more teaspoons (that's 2 tablespoons in all with divided use). Stir this to dissolve the salt and sugar and begin adding flour. 
Salt drifting in the bowl.

All-purpose flour 6 - 7 cups in all.

Not looking like much here, but just wait.
I sift my flour into the bowl one cup at a time and stir a bit before the next addition. Begin by adding 6 cups to make a rather raggy dough that holds together somewhat. 

Time to knead.
After the dough has been mixed sufficiently to bring the dough together it gets a bit difficult to stir. Plop it from the bowl onto a well-floured pastry cloth and begin the kneading. 

The flour on the pastry cloth will be incorporated into the dough during the kneading process.

Knead for 7 or 8 minutes.
The dough will be elastic and very easy to handle.


Extra Virgin Olive Oil in my old bowl.
With clean fingers, coat the bowl with the oil.

Place the dough into the bowl and turn once to coat the entire ball of dough.

Cover with a damp cloth, put in a warm place free from drafts.
Tick-tock, now the waiting begins.
Give the dough a good 1-1/2 hours to rise.
Big old bowl of risen dough.

Carefully remove the dough to a floured pastry cloth and knead 5 or 6 times. Let the dough take a 10 minute rest, then cut into 4 pieces.
Roll out the dough into a somewhat rectangular shape.

Roll up in a cigar fashion and pinch the ends to seal.
Place on an oiled sheet of parchment paper on 2 sheet pans with 2 loaves per sheet.
Make 4 slits in each loaf.

Ready to go under the damp kitchen cloth for another rise.
About another 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

After the rise and looking great.
Beat 1 egg white with a splash of water and brush liberally over each loaf before placing in a very hot oven, 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for another 30 to 35 minutes. The loaves will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Golden brown and delicious.

Enough to share.

A pinched end with a dribble of butter.
No words...

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