Easy to Make French Bread

Adapted from a N.Y. Times recipe by Jim MacKenzie

Supplies needed

Three double French Bread cooking pans to make 6 loaves. They should be at least 18 inches long. The shiny aluminum kind work better than the dark steel ones (which tend to brown the bottom of the loaves too quickly) though I routinely bake with both.
A plastic pastry scraper.
An atomizer for spraying the loaves with water.
A wooden mixing spoon.

Ingredients

3 cups warm water
2 tablespoons granulated yeast (or two packages)
6 3/4 cups Pillsbury Bread Flour (the only kind worth using)
4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
shortening to grease the molds

1. Heat the water until it is almost too warm to put your finger into it; that’s about right. Stir in the yeast with a wooden spoon.

2. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the yeast/water mixture.

3. Mix in 3 cups of flour using a wooden mixing spoon, or a mixer on low.

4. Add the remaining 3 3/4 cups flour. As the mixture thickens use the flexible pastry scraper to turn the dough over in the bowl. Spread some more flour on the mixing board and, with flour on your hands, knead the mixture using the pastry scraper. The mixture should be fairly sticky: this is normal! If it is absolutely too sticky add some more flour but don’t go over a total of 7 3/4 cups, at least the first time you try the recipe.

5. After a minute or two of kneading, let the mixture rest a few minutes. Then knead another minute or two until the mixture is fairly uniform. (It will remain sticky and never get as smooth as normal bread dough; that’s OK.)

6. Dust the inside of your mixing bowl with flour, add the dough, cover with a damp cloth, and place in a slightly warm oven (85 degrees) to double. This should take 45 minutes to an hour.

7. Grease the molds well with shortening. Cut the dough into 6 equal parts of about 10 oz. each. (I use a 10 pound postal scale.) With flour on your hands form each piece into a “rope” and place them in the greased molds. Place the molds, uncovered, in the warm oven to double, about 30-45 minutes.

8. When the dough has doubled, remove the molds and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

9. Just before placing the loaves in the oven (second shelf from the top), spray them with water. After 3 minutes, open the door and spray them again. After 3 more minutes, spray them a third time. Continue baking until the loaves are a golden brown; this could take 5-10 minutes more. Spread the sides of the molds to loosen the loaves and turn the loaves over to make sure the bottoms are also golden brown; if they are too light, place the molds back in the oven with the loaves upside down to brown the bottoms of the loaves.

10. Remove the loaves and let them cool on racks. Freeze the loaves not to be immediately used as soon as they have cooled. To use later, let the loaves thaw at room temperature for 15 minutes (or place one in a microwave for 30 seconds on high) then heat in a 250 oven for 10-15 minutes until they are hot to handle. Always reheat the bread; otherwise the crust will be soft rather than hard.

NOTE: You may have to experiment with your specific oven for the correct time and procedures. Judge by the color, though, not by the baking time. If you have an electric oven and black tins you may find the bottoms of the loaves cooking too fast. I did! In this case try placing an empty cookie sheet, aluminum foil, or a baking stone below the molds. As the loaves start to brown you must watch them like a hawk or they will overbake.

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