French Boules

I MADE BREAD!

When making the above declaration,  one must pound their chest with two fists like this.

Imagine tearing a hunk of this warm bread-crusty on the outside, chew on the inside-and having it with a bowl of hot soup or homemade preserves.

When the November issue of Cooking Light promised that I could make wonderful, crusty french bread with my stand mixer, I was skeptical,  but intrigued.  After all, I hadn’t baked bread in  15+ years and even then I used a bread machine.  I knew that crazy-looking, squiggly attachment that came with my mixer was a dough hook, but I put away thinking “someday…”

Until now.

For those of you who don’t have a heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook:  I couldn’t begin to adapt this recipe for hand kneading, but if you are an experienced bread baker, you probably anyway,  so if decide to try it…let me know how it turns out.

The recipe called for the yeast to be activated-a process whereby the yeast is added to very warm water and allowed to sit until it starts bubbling.  I used instant yeast which refused to bubble after three activation attempts.  Searching the trusty interwebs revealed that instant yeast doesn’t need activation (whew!).  The skepticism continued to grow, and I wondered if that the bread was going to rise, but it did.

Allow a few days.  You must prepare the starter, or Pâte fermentée, 2-3 days ahead of time before actually baking the bread.  The day of baking, you must allow the dough to rise on two separate occasions for a total of 2 hours 45 minutes.  As you can seen, this is a labor of love, but so worth it!

French Boules

Pâte fermentée

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 tsp active dry yeast (as I said, I used instant)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup warm water

cooking spray

Dough

3/4 cup warm water

1 tsp active dry yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp cornmeal

Prepare the pâte fermentée:  combine all but 4 Tbsp of the flour, 1/2 tsp yeast, and 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Add 1/2 cup warm water, and beat at low speed until mixture is thoroughly combined.  Add enough of the remaining 4 Tbsp of flour , 1 Tbsp at a time,until dough just begins to pull away form sides of the bowl.  Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes.  Place dough in a small bowl coated with cooking spray.  Place a piece of plastic wrap coated with cooking spray direclty on dough.  Refrigerate 48 hours or up to 3 days.

Remove starter form refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

To prepare dough, place 3/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached, sprinkle with 1 tsp yeast.  Let mixture stand for 5 minutes or until bubbles start to form.  *Again, if you use instant yeast, there will not be a bubbly reaction.  You can move directly to the next step after mixing the yeast and water.

Add starter to yeast mixture; let stand 10 minutes.  Add 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2/3 cup bread flour , and 1 tsp salt to the bowl; beat at low speed until flour is incorporated.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for 6 minutes (dough ball should form).  Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm, dry place for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.  Press two fingers gently into the dough.  If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough).

How to let dough rise in your oven:  Turn your oven on to the lowest possible temperature.  For many, this will be 100-125 degrees.  Once the oven reaches the preset temperature, turn it off.  Open the oven door for about 30 seconds to let some of the heat dissipate.  Place your dough in the warm oven to rise.

Punch dough down, and divide into 2 equal portions.  Knead each portion by hand for 1 minute.  Shape each portion into a 5-inch round by pulling the sides down, pinching and tucking them under the bottom of the dough to form a smooth, taut surface on top.  Place dough rounds on a baking sheet lightly dusted with cornmeal.  Lightly coast the dough with cooking spray.  Cover and let rise 1 hour and 15 minutes or until doubled in size again.

Place a small oven-proof saucepan (I used a Corning Ware dish) with 3 inches of water directly on the floor of the oven.  preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Uncover dough.  Spray dough lightly with water.  Using a sharp knife, make 4 (4-inch)cuts 1/4 inch deep in dough to form a grid across top of each loaf.  Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.  Remove water from oven.  Bake an additional 15 minutes or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped.  Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.  Slice or tear into big chunks.

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