Okay, if you’re making this recipe to save time and money, you’re out of your mind. You can buy a pretty decent loaf of french bread at your local market for around two bucks. I never understood how they could make it that inexpensively absent automation, but they do. Someone suggested “volume” but I’m not too sure about that: in my younger days, I bought a pickup-load of apples for $125, but found I could only sell them for $100. One of my friends suggested that to solve that problem, all I needed was a bigger truck! (As you might expect, he tried to run for Congress.)
But if you want to have a bit of fun and turn out a couple of nice loaves of great bread, do this one. It will take you back to days of yesteryear and let you identify with your ancestry who used similar wood-fired ovens to bake bread.
French Bread Ingredients:
About 5 1/4-5 1/2 cups of unbleached flour (okay, use bleached if you must, but remember the old adage – “The whiter your bread, the sooner you’re dead!”)
12 oz. warm beer or ale about 110°-120° (you can substitute water if you must)
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 packages fast yeast
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp cold water
1 egg white
Tbsp = tablespoon • tsp = teaspoon
French Bread Preparation
Pour the warm beer or ale into a large mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and swirl until mixed. Pour the yeast on top of the beer/vinegar mixture and let stand for 15 minutes in order to “proof” the yeast. Add the sugar, salt, baking soda, and oil, and mix thoroughly with a fork. Mixture will be frothy. Let this stand for another 15 minutes.
Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing constantly to moisten all of the flour. You can do the first 3 1/2 cups with a spoon or fork, but the next cup or so you will need to use your hands. Stop adding flour when the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl, but make sure you use at least 5 1/4 cups.
Now your work begins. You must knead this bread for five minutes. This will require some effort, especially from your wrists and forearms, but the bread will not work unless you do this. You grandmother likely did this nearly every day!
Now, let this rise to double its size, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Put the dough in a warm closet to speed this process.
Next, punch the batter down and divide it in half. Make two loaves. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place the bread on it. Let the bread rise to double its size, another 1-1 1/2 hours.
Make 4 diagonal cuts about 1/8” deep across each loaf with a serrated knife.
Mix the water and egg white and brush the tops of both loaves.
Set your grill at 375 and let the temperature stabilize. Put the bread in for about 45 minutes, brushing every 15 minutes with the egg whites and water mixture., which will crispen the crust but leave the bread inside light and airy. Let the loaves cool for a few minutes on a wire rack before you gorge yourself.