Sunday, February 20, 2011

Give Us This Day...#@!*&...Pardon My French Bread

It all started so innocently.  Easy Saturday.  Nothing planned.  No commitments.  "Ok girls.  Mommy has to post about bread tomorrow so let's get cooking!"  They put on their aprons.  I changed my shirt...bread is messy business.  And we began to measure.  Bowls out.  Two cups of warm water.  "#@!*!  We don't have any yeast girls, let's go to the store."

We began again with a renewed spirit...and a new jar of yeast.  Reheated the 2 cups of water.  Yeast.  Sugar.  Salt.  Oil.  Taking turns dumping ingredients into the bowl.  So civilized.  I am such a good mother.  "Let's measure the flour and put it into a bowl for when we need it.  Perfect ladies.  Take turns dumping it in.  Nice work ladies."  I am such a good mother.  "Let me just turn around here for a second and wipe out this bowl and then we'll mix it all in."

"#@!&*!  No girls!  Not yet!"

"That's ok.  We'll just measure again.  No problem.  Just keep playing with that stuff.  I'll make a new bowl for the bread."  Such a good mother.

They had a ball playing with the flour.  I showed an uncharacteristic amount of patience letting them make a mess.  I finished kneading.  We cleaned up.  Nice.  The dough rose nicely in the sunny window.  It went into the oven with plenty of time for me to heat the soup for dinner.  Perfect timing. 

Beep!  Beep!  "#@*!&!  What the #@%& was that BEEP?  Why does the oven panel say ERROR?  What does that mean?"  Beep!  Beep!  Fast forward several minutes to the Father doing a frantic Google search for error codes and me trying to reprogram the oven repeatedly, to no avail, in an attempt to keep the ovens hot enough to finish french bread that had nearly 20 minutes left to bake.

It did not end as innocently as it began.  The new electronics panel that we will need for the oven is going to cost $150.  #@*!&!  The dog puked flour on the oriental rug.  #@*!&!  Bread was a bit doughy, but edible.  #@*!&!  I should have just bought a loaf when I went to the store to get the yeast.

Pardon My French Bread

Simple ingredients, provided you have them on hand, yield 4 french baguettes.  Watch your time planning.  You'll need 3 hours for these.  Eat two and freeze two for another night.  Wrap the cooled loaves in plastic.  Reheat bare loaves in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes to restore crispness.

2 cups warm water
5 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups of all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
cooking spray

1.  In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast and sugar.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes, until it's foamy and creamy looking.  Add the salt and oil.  Stir in 5 cups of the flour.  Scrape dough bits from the bowl and turn dough out onto a floured surface.  Knead dough for at least 10 minutes adding additional flour by the handful until it stops sticking to you and the counter.  This dough is VERY soft and sticky when you begin kneading.  It will stiffen up a bit as you knead.  Don't stop after just a few minutes though.  You'll notice it get very smooth after about 6 minutes or so.  Keep adding the flour to your surface or your hands if it starts to stick to you again and work that dough for the full 10 minutes.  Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, turn dough to coat all sides with spray, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour.

2.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into fourths.  Stretch and roll each section into a rectangle about 6 x 12 inches.  Roll it up as tightly as possible and fold the ends over.  Grease two baking sheets and place finished loaves on the sheets placed as far apart as possible.  Stretch the loaves as long as your baking sheets will allow, up to 16 inches.  Brush the tops with water and make a 1/4 inch slash down the center of each loaf.  Allow to rise uncovered in a warm place for another hour.

3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven.  Use a lasagna pan or any other oven safe container like corningware or pyrex.  Do not skip this step.  Putting the water in the oven keeps these skinny loaves from turning into crusty cracker sticks.  Before placing the loaves in the oven, brush them one more time with water.  Bake them for 10 minutes, brush again with water and bake 20 minutes longer or until the loaves look lightly browned on the top.  Don't let them get too brown, they'll be hard as rocks.

Serve warm, right out of the oven.  With or without the oven manual...your choice.

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