In this week’s article (The Meat Muddle), I talked about how reliance upon anything transported, whether meat or vegetable, has a negative effect on the environment. But how can this be legitimately avoided? The most obvious step would be to begin your own garden, whether you have the space for entire beds of potatoes and corn to just a few indoor herb pots. Raising your own chickens is another good source of eggs and poultry, but if you must eat meat and are queasy about slaughter, farmers’ markets and local butchers are usually your best bet. Even the smallest of actions can lessen the burden of our eating habits on the world, if we all do it together.
But the DIY cooking does not have to stop there! Recently, I’ve fallen in love with baking from scratch. The flavors are just so much more rich than anything bought at the store, you can be sure that there is no corn syrup or chemical preservatives lurking in the ingredient lists, and the sense of accomplishment is as gratifying as the dish itself. So, in light of this, here is a recipe for fast and easy French bread, one of the new staples around my house. Don’t be afraid of bread baking – the process is really quite easy; it just requires a bit of down time while you wait for the dough to rise. And if you would like this meal to be turned into a guilt-free feast, be sure to buy locally-milled flour, and then later top it with a dab of oil and lots of fresh veggies from your garden or farmers’ market for a deliciously fresh, earth-friendly sandwich.
Fast and Easy French Bread
One large loaf or two medium loaves
2 hours – 10 hours, mostly unattended
3 ½ c flour (either completely all-purpose, or 2 c all-purpose and 1 ½ c wheat)
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1 c water
1 egg (optional)
- Mix together 2 c flour, the yeast, and the salt in a large bowl. Add 1 c warm water and then mix either using a standing mixer with a dough hook, or with a heavy wooden spoon. Continue adding the flour until it is no longer able to be stirred.
- Take the dough out of the bowl and put on a lightly floured surface. Mix in the rest of the flour by hand: how I usually like to do this is to make an indention in the flour (like a bowl), our about ¼ to ½ c of flour inside. I then fold the dough around and continue to knead until incorporated.
- Kneading is important! Even if all of the flour is used up, continue to knead so that the total kneading time comes to at least 10 minutes. At the end, you should have a smooth, round ball that is not too sticky to touch, has some elasticity, but is overall fairly firm.
- Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn once. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and put in a warm place away from drafts. Usually, I put mine on top of the oven if I’ve already started baking for the day, or I will boil a cup of water in the microwave, take the cup out, and then put the bowl inside. I’ve even had friends put their dough on top of a radiator! Regardless of where you put it, you will want the dough to stay mostly still until it doubles in size – this usually takes at least an hour. The longer you leave it, the better, but if you’re going to let it rise for between 2-6 hours, make sure to keep the bowl in the refrigerator. If you would like, you can freeze the dough here: just make sure to defrost fully before proceeding with the recipe.
- After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two balls, then cover with the cloth or plastic wrap and let it rise some more, about 20 minutes. At this point, you will want to preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Uncover the dough and press each into long rectangles. Fold the long sides of the rectangles so that they touch in the middle, roll into shape, and taper the ends. You can help seal the creases with a little bit of water.
- Cover a baking sheet with baking paper, or with oil and a sprinkle of corn meal. Put the loaves on the sheet with the seam-side down. Cut three or four diagonal slits in the top of the bread that are shallow but still distinct. Cover again with the cloth and let rise for another 20 minutes, or until the oven has pre-heated.
- Once ready, put the bread in the oven and lower the heat to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 minutes. If you would like, beat the egg with a T of water and then brush the top of the loaves with the egg wash. Continue baking for another 15-20 minutes.
- If you decided not to use the egg but still want a glossy finish, lightly spray each loaf with a small amount of water just after you remove it from the oven.
Recipe compiled by consulting:
Bittman, Mark. “Fast French Bread or Rolls,” in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food. Double B Publishing, Inc. and Wiley Publishing, Inc.: Hoboken, New Jersey, 2007. 707.
Hall, Jenn. “French Bread.” Allrecipes.com, 2003. http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/French-Bread/Detail.aspx.