Mom’s French Bread recipe (The annotated and commemorative version)
(makes 2 loaves)
2 cups warm water
1 really big tblsp yeast
1 tblsp or thereabouts olive oil
1 tblsp sugar or honey (or some more because what the hell)
2 tsps salt
5 or so cups ww or unbleached white flour (depending on humidity and stuff)
Ice water (and a pastry brush if you have one) (One time, I used a plant sprayer, because I was desperate. It actually worked pretty well.)
• Dissolve the yeast in warm water and the sugar or honey in large bowl; allow yeast to foam up for about 10 minutes.
• Add salt, oil, and around 3 cups of the flour; beat for a couple of minutes till it’s all incorporated and your hand hurts (“vos blessures de mains”).
• Stir in enough (approx. 2 cups) flour to make a stiff dough.
• Knead until smooth and elastic (“aplanissez comme le fond d’un bébé”), it takes about 10 minutes. Keep adding flour if you need to.
• Place in warm, oiled bowl, turn the dough to coat all sides, cover with a dishcloth and let rise someplace warm (but NOT hot) until doubled.
• Punch down and divide in half.
• Shape dough into two long slender loaves.
• Grease and sprinkle with cornmeal either a french bread pan (nobody owns these) or large cookie sheet.
• Place loaves in pan and cut three or four diagonal gashes (“le couteau se tache diagonalement”) along the top of each loaf.
• Cover and let rise until doubled.
• Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.
THIS is crucial for getting that golden-brown crustiness while still having that soft interior: As the baking goes: at five-minute intervals, brush loaves with ice water.
Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes. If you cut it too soon (I always do) it tends to be squishy (“mou”).