French Bread, With a Bit of Help…

Who can deny the pleasure of freshly baked French bread; spread with butter or sopping up some lovely sauce – such as Cod and Mussels in Red Pepper Aioli?

Now, what if I told you that you could make your own French bread, with next to no muss nor fuss?

All you need is a bread machine; and, while one of these spiffy perforated French bread pans is a big help, you can make a fine loaf of bread all in the machine.

•1 tbsp olive oil
•1-1/3 cup water
•1-1/2 tbsp Honey
•3 cups flour
•1 tbsp sugar
•1/2 tsp salt
•2 tsp yeast
•Additional olive oil
•Corn meal

Note: bread machines vary. My machine says to add the wet ingredients first, then the dry, and then the yeast on top. Consult your machine’s manual for direction.

Add the tablespoon of olive oil, the water, and the honey to your bread machine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt until well blended. Add to the bread machine, covering the liquid.

Sprinkle the yeast on top of the flour mixture, then start the machine, select “Dough,” note the time remaining, and go off and do something else while the dough comes together.

Note: If you want to let the machine do all the work, select “French Bread” and wait for it to finish. Still mighty tasty.

Assuming you are in it for the baguettes, when the dough cycle has finished, remove the pan from the machine.

Coat your hands in a bit of olive oil (the dough will be a bit sticky), then remove the dough from the pan, punch down, shape into a ball, and place in a bowl.

Note: the bowl you used to whisk the flour, sugar and salt together, in this case an eight cup measuring bowl, will work a treat.

Add a touch more olive oil and turn to coat all sides of the dough ball.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot until the dough has risen to double in size; about one hour.

Punch the dough down again and divide in half, if you are planning to make baguettes.

Scatter corn meal over a board and shape each dough half into a long, narrow loaf, coating all sides with the corn meal.

Heat your oven to 375º and line a baking pan with parchment paper.

Place each loaf on the parchment, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and set aside to rise for anther hour or so.

Remove the cover and bake until the loaves are nicely browned and sound hollow when thumped. Mine were well and truly ready after 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven, slice and serve.

Freeze any leftovers for French toast, or cut into cubes, toss with garlic-infused olive oil, and bake in a 250º oven until you have nicely crispity croutons.

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