Baking bread is a reward in itself. A perfect bread is the perfect conclusion to a day’s worth of patience. The kneading, the rising, the waiting, the re-kneading…this is definitely not something you can do on the run. But when the result is what you hoped for, it is hard not to feel just a little bit on top of the world.
Besides, all those cliches about the aroma of fresh-baked bread and the joy of biting into a still-warm crust? Well, they’re all true.
I have written before of my love affair with baking, which pretty much dates back to my love affair with my sweet-toothed hubby, Desi. But baking bread by itself constitutes, in my book, a whole separate category of pleasure.
Now bread has gotten a pretty bad reputation in the past few years because of the low-carb craze, and I am just as worried as the next girl about gaining weight. But impossible as it is for me to give up bread, I do the next best thing: I make it healthy.
This past Saturday, with some time on my hands to kill, I decided to turn to one of my favorite cookbooks with a treasure-trove of bread recipes, CookWise by Shirley Corriher. Corriher is as interested in food as the science behind it, and her recipes usually are lengthy and involve some unusual ingredients. But the result is always, unerringly beautiful.
The crusty French bread I made contains, of course, no animal products, and it was quite easy to veganize this bread because the only time I should have used butter, according to the recipe, was to brush the top of the bread. I substituted with olive oil and the result was so good, I simply cannot believe that butter would have made it any better.
On that note, I must add here that veganizing breads that call for substantial quantities of milk and eggs is not difficult either, with the right substitutes.
While my baguettes were a little shorter and stouter than the ones you find in stores, blame that on the short baking sheet I have. The bread itself couldn’t have been better: superbly crusty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.
So here’s the recipe for a Crusty French bread. Tomorrow I take off for a business trip to beautiful Nashville, Tennessee, but I’ll be back over the weekend with an old Indian favorite that brings back memories of traveling as a teen in one of India’s most beautiful and colorful regions. Any guesses? Here’s a hint: it neighbors my home state of Maharashtra.
1 package or 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 3/4 cups and 1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup durum wheat flour (semolina)
1 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)
1/4 of a 500 mg vitamin C tablet, crushed to a powder
1/3 cup crushed ice
1 tsp and 1/4 tsp sea salt (use regular salt if you don’t have this)
1/2 tso vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the yeast, sugar and water. Let it stand for about 2-3 minutes until the yeast foams.
Add 1 3/4 cups of bread flour, the durum wheat flour and the chickpea flour. With the paddle blade, mix on medium-low speed for 4 minutes to beat air into the dough. Let this mixture sit for about 2 hours or at least 30 minutes.
Remove the paddle blade and insert the dough hook. Add the vitamin C, crushed ice, 1 tsp salt, vinegar, the remaining 1 cup of bread flour and whole wheat flour.
Knead for five minutes on medium-low speed. The dough will be soft and elastic. Add more flour or water if needed.
Place the dough in an oiled pan and turn over once to coat evenly with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for the dough to rise until it has doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn it on the counter and divide in half. Knead each half, shaping it into a smooth round. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for about 15 minutes.
To shape the baguette, place your thumbs in the front of the loaf and with your fingers push the sides of the loaf outward and then tuck them in at the bottom. Continue doing this along the length of the loaf until you have acquired the desired length.
Cover a baking sheet with tin foil and turn up the edges of the foil to catch any oil that might run during the baking. Oil the foil and place the loaves on the sheet.
Stir together the olive oil and salt. Brush the tops of the loaves with the mixture. Let the bread rise for another 2 hours until it has more than doubled.
Brush again with olive oil. With a sharp knife, make three quick diagonal cuts along the length of the loaf, taking care not to deflate it.
About 30 minutes before the bread is fully risen, place a baking stone, if you have one, in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. (I bought four unglazed ceramic tiles at the hardware store that I use instead of a baking stone/pizza stone with great success).
About five minutes before you actually place the bread in the oven, turn down the heat to 425 degrees and place a baking pan with about 1/2 inch of boiling water in it on the lowest shelf.
Bake the bread until well-browned, about 30-35 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving.