Foolproof simple bread recipes?
I'm looking for a few basic recipes...would love to bake bread two or three times a week, but I've never wanted to deal with keeping starters and all that on hand. Does anyone have a good recipe for a really simple crusty-outside-soft-inside baguette? I want something that will come together in a few hours. Thanks!
If you want simple and fool proof:
Run your pointer over my avatar to see the results from my oven.
The classic lean French bread dough, using American AP flour, would be expressed in baker's percentages as flour: 100%, water 62%, salt between 1.8 and 2.5% and yeast, about 1 %. These ratios express the other ingredients as percentages by weight of the amount of flour. If we were to make a small recipe of it, you might use 16 ounces of all purpose flour, 10 ounces of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and about the same amount of yeast.
However, how you handle these ingredients makes a big difference in the outcome. You can mix them all together ("direct method") and knead the dough by hand or mechanically. You can let it rise once, or fold it after it has doubled in volume and let it rise again. Then you divide the dough--in this case probably into two pieces--let it rest for about ten minutes and then shape and proof the loaves and then let them bake in a moist oven. The bread will be good, but it will have a short shelf life. That may not make a difference to you.
Every step you take that slows down the fermentation will improve the flavor and keeping quality because it gives the enzymes a chance to work on the flour. A classic way is to mix the flour and water, let it sit to "autolyse" for between 20 minutes and an hour, and then add the salt and yeast and proceed as above. A second method is to mix the dough, as by the direct method, but then retard it in the refrigerator. A third method is to use a pre-ferment, which is what you seem to want to avoid. At its simplest, you put some old dough into the new batch. Or you mix a poolish. These methods do improve flavor very much and they are not hard to do.
Crusty outside and soft inside calls for an oven that is hot enough and a good moist atmosphere. So you will want to bake at 475 or 45o and steam the oven up when you put in the loaves.
You can also increase the hydration of the loaves if you like. A more Italianate bread would typically have more water. So you could try 10 ounces of water to 15 ounces of flour.
Any of the good bread books available, and quite a few web sites, will show you how to mix, knead, and shape the loaves. However, don't think that you need to let the dough rise in a really warm place. Typical room temperature in the kitchen gives fine results.
I use this recipe which I think came from the King Arthur Flour site. One day every week to ten days I throw it together and after the initial rise it resides in a plastic bin in my fridge. No feeding the mother, no mucking about. As I need it I pull off enough for a loaf and bake it up. I also make it in a double batch using half whole wheat flour and half AP flour with 3-4 Tbs of active wheat gluten added to kick up the rise. When I want variations, I add herbs or nuts or cheese or whatever when I'm shaping the loaf. It also makes kick-ass sticky buns.
A word of warning: this is a very loose dough, don't be surprised or think you've done something wrong because it will look and act like a sticky gluey mass. It appears to have a low rise but it really springs in the oven.
Simple Crusty Bread
Adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)
Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours’ resting and rising
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).
2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.
3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.
4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Yield: 4 loaves.
Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.