With the weather here in Maryland getting steadily colder, the time has definitely arrived for comfort food, and I don't think that there's anything more comforting than freshly baked bread, warm out of the oven. This particular bread is quite well worth making even if only for the smell that permeates through the house while it's baking. Unfortunately, this loaf disappeared so quickly that I don't even have enough to serve with dinner tonight - and even worse, I'm out of yeast until tomorrow!
Basic French Bread
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
5 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 teaspooons good-quality salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups warm water (105-115F)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
cornmeal for dusting
1 egg (or 1 egg white)
1 tablespoon water
1. Combine 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook attachment, work in the water slowly. Don't be alarmed if it doesn't come together - it won't until you add the rest of the flour.
2. Add the butter, and the remaining flour, one cup at a time. Mix on low speed until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, homogeneous and elastic. If needed, work in more flour to made the dough easier to work with if it is too sticky.
3. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours.
4. Take the dough out of the bowl and lightly punch it down. Form into a loaf (or two, if you prefer. Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, cover and let rise until nearly doubled again, 30 minutes to an hour.
5. When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 375F. Whisk together the egg and water, and brush liberally over the loaf. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the loaf in about 3-inch intervals.
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, checking occasionally to make sure that the top isn't browning too much. If it is, cover with aluminum foil.
- This is particularly delicious served with a garlic and olive oil dip - mince 3-4 cloves of garlic, and combine with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a teaspoon or so of dried parsley (you could also use a tablespoon of chopped fresh). Place in a bowl and pour over a 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. This can be used immediately, but it improves as it sits. I like to sit it on top of the oven while the bread is baking to infuse.
I just finished reading... The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.