My husband and I met when he was a senior, my freshman year in college. Our first date was to a movie and a local tea/coffee house in the Twin Cities where the sound of banjos and guitars (and the occasional jug band) could be heard.
We waited (a long) four years until I graduated before we were married. However, early on in our dating, we knew marriage was down the line. My then boyfriend and I were very frugal (and still are today.) A small budget meant getting creative with finding things to do. Besides frequenting the local coffee houses and going for hikes along the bluffs and rocks of the St. Croix River, we also loved spending time at book stores. Go ahead, call us nerds! One of our favorite places to go to was a little used bookstore in the area. Every time we were there, I would hunt for books that I loved as a child to save for the day that we would have our own children.
On one such trip I was getting ready to buy a stack of books when I saw the Beard on Bread book. On an impulse, I grabbed it and added it to my pile of books to purchase. That book began my love for bread making.
From my first days of baking bread with that book in the apartment I shared with some friends on campus, until today, I continue to have a love for bread.
I still have that book from our date to the book store all those years ago. One of my favorites is James Beard's recipe for French-Style Bread. It is such an easy bread to make. If you've never made bread before, this would be a great introduction to bread making. The loaf has only a few basic ingredients. Ten minutes of kneading and one rise, the loaf then gets baked in a cold oven where it gets its second rise as the oven comes to temperature. Slice it up and serve it with some butter. You may very well fall in love with the art of bread making like I did all those years ago.
(Source: Beard on Bread cookbook)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm water (100 to 115 degrees F., approximately)
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour*
1 1/2 tablespoons corn meal (optional: see below)
1 tablespoon egg white, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water (optional: see below)
1. Combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl. Allow the yeast to "bloom". (Wait about 3-5 minutes for the yeast to begin bubbling.)
2. Add in the 2 1/2 cups flour and the salt. Stir well and turn out onto a floured surface. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour as needed. Knead for 10 minutes until you have a smooth ball.
3. Place the bread in a well greased bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow the bread to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Until the dough is doubled in size.)
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and roll the dough into a french-style loaf. Place the loaf on a parchment lined sheet pan or a pan that has been lightly dusted with corn meal.
5. Slash the top of the loaf in about 3 or 4 places and brush with the egg wash. (I skipped this step. The egg wash will give you a darker, shinier crust.)
6. Place the pan in a cold oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hallow when you tap on it.
*I have also successfully made this recipe with half whole wheat flour and half white flour. Add in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bread dough to help with tenderness if using whole wheat flour.