Bread is a big part of my life, not only making it, but eating it as well. I'm talking serious carb-o-holic here! Oh, and I'm not picky either. I'm an equal opportunist when it comes to all types of breads. You're likely to find it making an appearance at nearly all our meals in some form.
Sometimes it's something herbed, seeded and filled with any number of interesting tidbits. Other times our bread is something more simple and classic, like French bread.
French bread is simple, right from its humble beginnings in flour, yeast, salt and water. French bread needs nothing more to become the perfect traditional loaf we all know.
This crusty loaf is the epitome of a clean slate - a broad canvas to be enjoyed all by itself, with nothing more than a swipe of creamy butter or toasted with a smear of jam.
Or it can be sliced and covered with melted cheeses, garlic and parsley, or topped with a vibrant bruschetta. French bread is a loaf full of possibilities.
My favorite part of almost any loaf of bread is the crust, and French bread is no exception. But there are a few things that help that crust become a thing of perfection.
The first step to achieving thin, crunchy, beautiful crust on these baguettes is to rise them on a flour-impregnated canvas, called a couche. You won't wash your couche, but simply brush it off after each use, over time creating a surface permeated by flour and yeast. This is what helps to form a perfect crust, time after time. If you don't have a couche, you can certainly use a floured linen towel with similar results.
The second element to get that nice crispy exterior is steam. You can easily create this key element a few different ways. After you put your loaves in the oven you can quickly mist your bread and inside of your oven with water. This will create a bit of steam for your loaves to bake in.
However, I find it to be more effective to have a broiling pan set on the lower rack of the oven. Once you place your loaves into the oven, mist your loaves with the misting bottle, and then quickly pour one cup of hot water into the broiling pan below. Steam will rise from the pan below, enveloping the loaves to create that perfect crust you're striving for.
The last element that will surely play a factor in the crust is your baking vessel. A baking stone is ideal for baking any kind of bread, but be sure to keep your steaming pan of water several inches away from your stone to prevent it from cracking. If you don't have a baking stone, a perforated French bread pan works wonderfully too. This pan will allow air and steam to freely circulate around your baguettes as they bake, and the curved sides help the bread keep its form while baking.
With these keys to success, you are only a few steps away from having fresh homemade French bread in your kitchen. And you’ll be well on your way to becoming a carboholic like yours truly.
Now, the only thing left is to figure out what you'll be having alongside your French bread for dinner tonight?