French Bread and Rolls

Without a brick-lined bread oven, it's difficult to achieve the crumb and crust of a real French bread. This recipe, however, with unglazed quarry tiles in a regular home oven, produces a very good loaf. The outside is crusty and golden and the inside, although a bit heavier than bakery baguettes, is still airy.


Yield: 4 18-inch baguettes or 24 4-inch rolls

Preheat oven to 450°F., and line the upper shelf with unglazed quarry tiles. If you don't have quarry tiles, grease 4 baguette pans with vegetable oil spray.

Mix 1/4 cup warm water and yeast in a mixing cup and leave for about 1 minute. Put flour, salt, and yeast mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade. With the motor running, add the 3 cups of warm water. Knead for about 2 minutes, adding flour if needed to end up with a very smooth, elastic dough, the texture of your earlobe. Put the dough in a large bowl, covered, in a warm (70°F.-85°F.) place. Allow the dough to double in size.

Punch down the dough, cover again, and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Cut the dough into 24 small balls or 4 large pieces. Form each piece of dough into a smooth ball; cover and let rise another hour.

To shape the rolls or loaves, work on a lightly floured surface, and roll the balls of dough back and forth, using the fingers of both hands, to achieve an elongated bread with slightly tapered ends - 4 inches long for rolls and 18 inches long for baguettes. If you are baking directly on tiles, have the rolls rise on a floured surface. For the baguettes, rub flour into a large dish towel, and fashion a couche or bed for the loaves by gathering the towel into channels to loosely hold the loaves. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let rise about 45 minutes. If you don't have quarry tiles, you can have the loaves or rolls rise and bake in greased baguette pans or on greased cookie sheets.

Put a shallow container of water on the lower rack of the oven. With a sharp paring knife (or lame) make 1/4 inch slits lengthwise on roll or diagonally, every 2 inches, on each baguette. Bake at 450° for 20-25 minutes (10-15 minutes for rolls). Place on a rack to cool. Freeze if bread is to be kept longer than a day.

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