Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Laziest Loaf - Two-Hour French Bread


Despite all the well-deserved hoopla since the New York Times published a recipe for no-knead bread by the practical and plain-talking Minimalist writer, Mark Bittman, some happy home bakers felt they arrived late to the party. With eyes wide with awe or narrowed with skepticism, the greater contingent of yeast feasters contemplated the wondrous development of the no-knead (“Look, Ma, no hands!”) bread, where the chief effort is in patiently sitting on those hands, waiting from 12-18 hours for fermentation to breathe literally volumes of sticky, stringy dough. The dough is then casually baked after being casually dumped into a Dutch oven, the cover of the pot ingeniously used to hold the heat and steam in like a geodesic dome.

I am not a stranger to long fermentation; my ragingly successful teff batter, clocked at 24 hours, produced a bowl of ripe sludge akin to mortar and the sourest, spongiest injera to bed down with a hot-headed wat. I can wait if I want to, but I don’t always want to.

I didn’t want to wait some weeks ago. I was building a big creamy mess of Andean potato stew and needed to build an equally homey bread to soak, scrape and savor every last drop of it. It had to be a quick bread, but I refused the path of least resistance, the baking powder biscuit, a masterpiece in its own right, but lacking the quintessential crust and crumb that only those little yeast beasties can provide.

There are times when sauntering through a cookbook for your heart’s desire is just about the most comforting and cozy pursuit you could enjoy, but I did not have the luxury of time. The stew would be bubbling up fast enough, its potatoes threatening to revolt against their stylin’ cubism in favor of slop art. I Googled and gambled with the very first recipe I could grab.

About two hours later: French bread, a long, heavy arm of artisan crust as craggy and crackly as a lizard’s back, and a crumb dense and firm enough to withstand a crumbled smear of hard, cold butter without breaking. The party for no-knead bread may be nearly over, but there’s still cause for celebration.

Quick French Bread – Highly adapted from Vegan-Food

Ingredients

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (no sifting necessary)
2 (two) ¼ ounce packets Fleishmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast – MUST be Rapid Rise or another brand of fast-acting dry yeast
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons salt, seed, seasoning or dried herb (optional)

Method

In saucepan heat water and 2 tablespoons butter to very warm 120 – 130 degrees F. Transfer to very large mixing bowl. While water and butter are heating, stir dry yeast, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt into flour in a separate mixing bowl using a wire whisk. Make sure all yeast organisms are removed from the packets; they will want to cling to the edges. Slowly add ½ the flour mixture into the water, stirring well, then add the remaining flour mixture, beating it in with a wooden spoon. The dough will be very ragged and a little dry, but keep beating until there is no loose flour left in the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or foil then set aside in a warm, draft-free place until dough doubles in size, approximately 45 minutes. When dough has doubled, punch it down, then empty the bowl onto a well-greased large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Flatten dough into rectangle about 1/3 inch thick, then roll the rectangle up lengthwise into a long loaf. Fold and tent the foil over the loaf and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until the dough has again doubled.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place pan of boiling water on lowest oven rack, then arrange the now-doubled loaf on the center rack, opening up the foil to expose it. The foil will act as the baking sheet. Slash the loaf randomly with a serrated knife and gently press optional garnish into soft dough top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Brush loaf with melted butter then return to oven for final 5 minutes.

Makes 1 generous loaf. --



This post is being submitted to Andrew at Spittoon Extra, host of Waiter, There's Something in My...Bread, the latest round of the food blogging event, Waiter, There's Something in My....

And here's the round-up published April 26, fresh out of the oven.

25 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great looking entry - I'm sorting out the entries received so far, so should have the round up posted next week.

    Regards

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  2. Looks good, but what really calls me is the injera post. I am getting my nerve up to try it. Our only Ethiopian restaurant in town closed several years ago and I miss it still, but it never occurred to me to try it at home.

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  3. I agree. French is beautiful, but injera is intriguing. You won't be disappointed with the results even though the fermentation feels like forever.

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  4. I've got the no-knead rising right now, ready to dump into a dutch oven tonight, but this week, when I come home from work and know that bread is exactly the food that ECG and I need the most that night, I'll try this recipe on for size. I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for the practical and tasty post.

    Oh, and I really like the table cloth (magenta, orange, and yellow) that the bread sits on. Purty!

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  5. That "tablecloth" is actually a plastic plate from Pier 1. It's cheap and low glare, and we WILL eat off it eventually. This is what I do on my weekends, look for props. Let me know how the Bittman recipe goes.

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  6. Very nice and very well written. I could smell it, taste it, and feel myself smearing that butter! Gee, now I want bread, good bread, for breakfast. Sigh.

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  7. Thanks, Glenna. Needless to say, the "generous" loaf is gone already, almost as quickly as pulling it together, so I want good bread for breakfast myself this morning. Wonder Bread French toast ain't gonna cut it.

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  8. Gorgeous and crusty - and as Christina said earlier, the Injera bread post (which I've just gone to) is fascinating. Have also just read through the Andean Potato Stew - wonderful stuff. Can't wait to get home and try it.

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  9. Hee hee--looking for props for the blog. Blogs do have a way of creeping more deeply into our lives than we expected them to, don't they? As for the Bittman recipe, it wasn't my first time making it. I've been making it weekly since I read the recipe, and now have several variations for different styles of bread. I am really looking forward to your two-hour bread though--perhaps Thursday.

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  10. Looks delicious, I recently made my bread for the same event (yet to be blogged about) and it took about 4 hours total rising time. 2 hours is reallys streamlining it, plus it looks like a lovely, dense loaf. Yum!

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  11. Thanks, Freya and Paul. It was quite good in a very rustic, hearty way. 2 hours seems impossible, but my fearless desperation for "good bread" yielded better results than imagined. I've made it twice, now; it's a keeper.

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  12. love your blog, susan. have added you to our blogroll.

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  13. Lucy - Thanks for the kudos. I think you will like the potato stew. There's something unusually warming about it which will make it special as you head into your cooler seasons. Please let me know how you like it.

    Christina - When I first starting blogging, the goal was to get the heck away from business writing, a good discipline, but dry and severe. Now it's morphing into unexpected and exponential pleasures. I suppose it's only a matter of time before I start scavenging yard sales for scraps. I'm having a blast.

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  14. Thank you very much, Bee. I just spent some time at your site, and am happy to link to you as well.

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  15. What a gorgeous loaf of bread!

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  16. Thanks, Kristen. It tasted even better than it looks!

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  17. I will definitely be giving this a try, I'm too impatient to wait a long time for bread.

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  18. You have a really great blog. This is my first visit but you are now on my favs list. I'm going to try the bread this weekend. Have a lovely day.

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  19. Why, thanks, Judy! I will enjoy having you back to visit, and I think you will enjoy the bread, too.

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  20. Tried the recipe with high hopes, but it was so wet that it oozed all over. Folding it into a loaf shape was impossible. It also oozed over the edges of the pan (I used a loaf pan to try to hold it together) in the oven.

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  21. Sorry, Loaf. I'm puzzled. I've made this bread a couple of times, and it worked out. Can't account for the problems. Suggest you try the original from Bittman or the recipe fr/ Vegan-Food that I adapted this from.

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  22. Hi,
    U have a very nice blog...
    Nice recipes too..first time here..
    Keep rocking...

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  23. Just randomly looking for a fast rise french loaf recipe and found your site. Turned out great! Thanks so much!

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  24. Thank you, Tresa! Welcome!

    Anonymous - Thanks very much, particularly considering that an earlier commenter didn't have good luck with this recipe. A surprise, but there you have it. Best Wishes!

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