I started with this recipe, but only because I thought it was a recipe for real, live all whole wheat french bread. Nothing wrong with that recipe, but I’m a type II diabetic, and white flour is powdered death for me.
Anyhow, you need
3-4 (or 5, I didn’t really measure past a certain point) cups of Whole Wheat flour.
4 tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten (it’s in the bins at New Pi on the bottom row near the various flours)
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
2 Cups luke-warm water
1. Pour water into large mixing bowl. Temperature is pretty flexible, from barely warm, to kinda almost hot, but err on the side of coolness.
2. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and the yeast and blend with a wire whisk or a fork.
3. Go away for 10 minutes. Fix a bourbon and soda, say.
4. Come back and look in your bowl. It should smell yeasty, and look kinda bubbly. This means your yeast worked. If it just looks like lifeless brown goo, then your water was too hot, or your yeast was dead.
5. Add 2 cups flour, the gluten powder, and the salt. Stir until mixed; it should be just past batter into a kind of gloppy, hard to stir goo.
6. Go away for a few minutes. Why, you might ask? Well, the gluten powder needs to fully absorb the water in order to do its thing, which is to form long chain molecules that will trap CO2 bubbles to help your bread rise, and keep it from crumbling when it’s done baking.
7. Now add flour a little at a time, stirring with the spoon until it starts becoming a sticky dough. Then, using a few tablespoons more of flour to absorb the moisture, rub the sticky stuff off your wooden spoon and the sides of your bowl.
8. Dust your counter liberally with flour and turn the dough out onto it. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t one blob of dough.
9. Now knead the dough. Dust your hands with flour and then fold it over itself and squishing it with the heel of your hand. While you knead, sprinkle it with flour every couple of squishes, until it just stops wanting to stick to your hands.
10. I don’t think you can knead it too much, but you’re done as soon as it’s no longer sticky, and has a stretchy, rubbery texture. That’s those long chain polymers forming in the dough. This is organic chemistry at work!
11. Form the dough into a ball, brush it with your choice of butter, margerine, olive oil, etc. Stick it back in the mixing bowl, and cover it with a clean cotton towel. The oil helps to keep it from drying out, and the towel is to keep random schmutz from falling onto your happy dough. It also traps a little of the warmth generated by the busy, happy yeast, and helps it to do it’s thing.
Now at this juncture, your instinct is probably to put the dough someplace warm to get it to rise quickly. That’s not what you want to do. Put it someplace at room temperature — at least 65 degrees, and go away for an hour. You want it to rise slowly because that means smaller yeast bubbles and a finer texture.
Finish that bourbon & soda, make another one. Listen to Rubber Soul. Talk shit about your friends on Facebook. You can give it an hour & a half even.
12. Look at your dough. It should have risen, which is to say it’s swollen up to twice its size. If it hasn’t gotten quite twice as large, worry not, as long as it’s definitely bigger and puffier. Now turn the dough out onto the counter and squish it down, forcing out some of those bubbles of CO2.
13. Divide into two equal-sized chunks. Flatten each chunk until it’s about 2 inches thick, and then roll it up into a cylinder. fold the ends under and then roll the cylinder to make it longer and thinner. You want it to be about 3 inches thick in the middle and tapered at the ends. Just like one of those loaves of french bread French people carry under their arms when they’re walking home.
cool french bread pans, like I do, or just use a cookie sheet. In either case, lightly grease the pan with the lubricant of your choice — I spray them with PAM, but a little butter or oil will work too. Now lay your lovely brown cylinders of wheaten goodness on the pans. Cover again with the clean towel, and go away again. You can move on to your third bourbon, watch an episode of The Waltons or play all 4 sides of Darkness at the Edge Of Town.
15. It’s an hour later. Or 90 minutes, whatever. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Take a sharp knife and make a few diagonal slashes across the top of your bread. If you’re feeling like an overachiever, you can beat an eggwhite with a little water and brush it on the top of your bread.
16. Now they usually tell you to use a sprayer to spray some water into your oven to get it steamy. I can never find a clean spray bottle so I just splash a half a cup of water on the bottom of the oven. Put your loaves in the oven.
17. After about 10 minutes splash or spray some more water in the oven. This makes your bread crusty.
18. after about 30-40 minutes, or when your bread browns on top and has a nice hollow ‘thump’ when you tap it with your finger, take it out of the oven.
19. Let it cool for a while. Say 15 minutes. Preferably on a rack so that air can circulate around it.
Now slice or tear, and eat! If everything has gone as planned your loaves will be sturdy and crusty, but have a pleasingly light texture on the inside.
People who don’t bake bread are often afraid of doing it, or have had a few disasters and given up. But with a little practice, the right attitude, and a good bourbon (I recommend Wild Turkey — cheaper than Maker’s Mark but still yummy), it can be a success every time. If you think about it, the yeast does all the hard work for you!