French Bread (The Vegetarian Epicure)

Bread recipes are very long, but the list of ingredients is usually very short. This one has the shortest list of ingredients and one of the longest recipes to follow. But it’s amazing in its simplicity and flavor. Also, you can impress people because you baked not just bread, but French bread.

1 heaping tablespoon butter
1 heaping tablespoon salt
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 packet active dry yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm water
about 6 – 6 ½ cups unbleached, hard wheat, white flour
yellow cornmeal

In a very large mixing bowl combine the butter, salt, sugar, and 2 cups of boiling water. Stir a little as it dissolves. Sprinkle the yeast over 2/3 cup lukewarm water in a small bowl and allow it to dissolve. When the butter mixture is also lukewarm, combine the two and mix well.

Now start adding the flour, a little at a time. When you have added about 4 cups and the dough is beginning to get quite thick, beat it vigorously for about 10 min. with a wooden spoon. Then add flour until the dough is too stiff to mix with a spoon.

Turn it out onto a large, floured board and knead, adding a little more flour as necessary, until it is satiny smooth and very elastic. Form into a ball and put it away in a warm place to rise for about 1 ½ hours; the dough should double in size. Punch down and let it rise again until doubled; this time it will only take about 1 hour.

Prepare the baking sheet by buttering it and sprinkling yellow cornmeal lightly over the butter.

Divide the dough into three parts and shape each part into a very long, very slender loaf. Do this by rolling out each part into a rectangle about 14" – 15" long and 8" – 10" wide. Roll up the long side of the rectangle tightly until it is all a narrow, even roll about 1 ½ inches wide. Seal the seam and the ends by pinching, and place the three loaves on the baking sheet.

Cover them with a dry tea towel and let rise until they are almost double in size. Brush the tops of the loaves with cold water and, with a very sharp knife make three or four diagonal slashes across the top of each one.

Bake them in a preheated 400° oven for almost 1 hour; every 15 – 20 min., brush the tops with more cold water. This helps make the crisp, hard crust, for which French bread is famous. Keeping a shallow pan of hot water in the oven while the loaves are baking also helps.


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