This is a really easy and very tasty, but not fast, recipe for French bread or rolls. Baking with a pan of hot water in the oven creates a chewy crust, if a crispy crust is more to your taste, use an egg wash instead of the coating of flour and skip the water.
You can prepare this up to the baking stage a few days in advance. After the last rising, freeze on the prepared baking sheet. About an hour before dinner, thaw and bake as below.
French Bread or Rolls
Makes 1 baguette, 8 sandwich rolls or 12 dinner rolls
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cornmeal
Make the dough:
*In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over water and let stand 10 minutes in a warm place. Add 2 cups flour and salt to the yeast mixture.
*Beat with an electric mixer or mix by hand until a soft dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl forms – about 10 minutes for mixing by hand.
*Let the dough rest 10 minutes. *With a dough hook and the mixer running, add remaining flour and knead another 5 minutes. Or work the remaining flour into the dough by kneading by hand for about 10 minutes. Add more water if necessary to form a soft, elastic dough.
*Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides of dough.
*Cover with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise in a warm place away from drafts until doubled in bulk, up to 2 or more hours. Punch down the risen dough and re-form into a ball. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled in size – about 1 1/2 hours.
*Place a pan filled with hot water on the floor of the oven or on the lowest rack.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Form a baguette:
*On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.
*Roll into an oblong jelly-roll fashion, sealing the side and ends by pinching the dough together.
*Place on baking pan dusted with cornmeal. Loosely cover and let rolls rise for 30 minutes.
*On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 8 or 12 equal pieces.
*Form each piece into an oblong shape and place on a baking pan lightly dusted with cornmeal. Loosely cover and let rolls rise for 30 minutes.
*Rub a little flour over the tops of the baguette or rolls.
*Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make a 1/4-inch-deep slash on the top of each.
*Slide the baking sheet into the upper third of the oven and bake until dark golden brown – about 20 minutes for dinner rolls, 25 minutes for sandwich rolls or 30 minutes for a baguette.
*Transfer the rolls to a wire rack and allow to cool 10 minutes.
Store in an airtight container for up to two days or freeze for up to 1 month.