I totally made you wait more than 18-24 hours for this post. I am a bad, bad man. Lady. Whatever. You were very patient, and now that patience has paid off. Just like mine did concerning French bread!
Imma tell you the rest of my adventure now and give you the recipe. Recap of why this is fancy and new: Once you mix up your dough ingredients (which you don’t need a mixer for), you have to let them hang out for 18-24 hours before you can move on. I have a hard time waiting the agonizing eight minutes for chocolate chip cookies to be done, so this was difficult. If I did the math right (probably not), in the time it takes just for this dough to hang out, I could pull 135 batches of cookies out of the oven. That’s a shit-ton of cookies.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour* (keep more on hand for working surfaces)
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 packet active dry yeast (if you have yeast in bulk, that’s a little over 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 cups warm water (NOT hot. Think slightly above room temperature)
- corn meal (for ‘dusting’ purposes)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Put 1/4 of your warm water in a small bowl and add yeast. Give it a stir. Add the lil bit o’ sugar and stir it again. Now back off and let the yeast magic happen for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, mix the flours and salt.
Check your yeast. If it’s not puffy yet, give it another five minutes or so. Once it’s puffy (or ‘proofed’) pour it in the bowl with the flours and salt, stirring with a wooden spoon as you do so. Add remaining water (3 and 3/4 cups), ensuring it’s warm, still stirring as you do so. Get everything well incorporated. The dough will be heavy, sticky, and stringy. That’s okay, it’s supposed to be that ugly (and it’s going to get WAY uglier). You haven’t done anything wrong. Well, maybe you have. We’ll see.
Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap. Put the bowl in a draft-free place for at least 18 hours and up 24 hours. I used an unheated oven for my draft-free place, as that was what was suggested in the recipe.
I was all like “Uuuugh! Sweet Jesus! I waited 18 hours for my dough to develop a serious case of VD!” It had quadrupled in mass and gotten very, very unattractive. If I quadrupled in mass and got very, very unattractive, TLC would make a ‘special’ about me. If I grew a beard on top of that, I would probably get a deal for my own reality show. Anyway, if you’ve done your waiting then your dough, like mine, should now be huge and hideous.
Sprinkle flour generously all over a flat surface and dump your nasty-looking dough on top. Dust your hands with flour, and pretend that the dough is the ugliest daggum shirt you’ve ever seen, because now you are going to fold it. Yes. Fold that weird lumpy beast over itself 3-4 times. Pick up what could be perceived as an edge or side, and bring that over to the opposite edge or side. Grab another side, do it again, and then again, and then again. Something magical will happen as you do this – as the dough picks up flour and gets all foldarific, it’s weird holes and wrinkles and bubbles go away and it starts to smooth out and look like something you might actually want to put near your mouth at some future point. The folding is to French bread dough as plastic surgery is to Cher. Not that you would want to put Cher near your mouth. I’m sure she’s a very nice lady and all and I loved her in The Witches of Eastwick, but…okay, maybe that wasn’t the best comparison. Moving on.
Let your much prettier, now-folded dough rest for 30 minutes. Yes, no kneading was necessary. The folding was all that was required, which I think is super. Now, you have two choices: after the dough has rested, you can cut it into two even pieces (and roll both pieces into balls), or just leave it as it if you want a mega loaf. I asked James if I should leave it as is or make into smaller loaves and he said “SAMMICHES, SAMMICHES, I WANT GIANT SAMMICHES AS BIG AS MY FACE.” So I kept mine in one piece.
Put a tea towel on a large cutting board. Sprinkle sumothat corn meal on one half of the tea towel, and place dough on top. Make sure the dough facing you is smooth – the ‘seam’ in the dough should be on the bottom.
Cover the dough with the rest of the towel, and stick back in the unheated oven (or where ever your draft-free hidey place was) for 2 hours, or until doubled in size. I was really surprised at how lovely my dough was after rising. The outside was all smooth and uniform and dry and it was oddly firm and squishy at the same time. I rubbed it a little and sang a little song to it and got real close and sniffed it (it smelled real good). Those details weren’t necessary to share, but now you have that super great image in your brain forever and that makes me smile.
You will notice how round and very NOT like a baguette your French bread is. Take THAT, internet dummies!
If your dough is hiding in the oven at this point, take it out and put it on the counter, cuz it’s about to get hot up in there.
Invert a cookie sheet (or use a pizza/baking stone if you have one) and dust with cornmeal. Place in oven on middle rack and preheat to 450 degrees.
Slide the towel with the dough off the cutting board. Dust the cutting board with cornmeal, remove your dough ball(s) from the towel and set on top (again, with the seam side down). When the oven’s hot, gently slide the dough from the cutting board onto the hot cookie sheet/stone and cover the top with tinfoil. Bake that sucker for 30 minutes.
Take the foil off of the loaf. You will notice that the outside has ‘cracked’, so it will be all ridgy and interesting looking. Brush your olive oil on there. Now it will be glistening and the smell will be incredible and you will have a hard time not shoving your face into it. Look at this gratuitous oily crust shot I took for you:
Put back in the oven and bake uncovered for another 10-15 minutes or until the crust looks…well, crusty.
Put that GORGEOUS loaf of yours on a cooling rack and, as soon as you can touch it without blistering your fingers, use a good serrated knife to slice it up and use it for things like sammiches, sammiches, sammiches as big as your face:
The crumb is light, the consistency is excellent. I do recommend having something on hand to drink as you enjoy because, though the bread isn’t dry, it’s chewy and somewhat spongy and will suck all your saliva into it as you eat it. I bet that just made you super hungry.
The wait was worth it for me, and it will be for you. While you stuff your face with that full-figured French bread, use your free hand to pat yourself on the back for all your hard work and patience. You totally exercised a virtue, which is very special, and I’m pretty sure means you can skip Zumba for the next week.
*For heartier bread, use 3 cups wheat flour and 3 cups white flour – that’s what I did because I was almost out of white flour. I’m really good at thinking ahead.