In my most recent post, I wrote that if the French Bread that I was baking turned out as well as I thought it would, then I would blog about it.
(This is me blogging about it).
The recipe is so simple, but there is a little bit of trick involved in the baking process. The most memorable thing about French bread (and when I say French bread think of batards, baguettes, or some stretched, hard white bread) is the texture–the crunch. The inside is soft and white and rip-apartable– that’s not too hard to create. A crunchy, knock-on-it-and-hear-an-echo outer crust– that is where the difficulty exists. The idea is to bake the outside of the bread much quicker than the inside of the bread. There are two tricks that I have read slight variations of everywhere, but are pretty constant in advice columns and baking blogs.
1. You need a baking a stone for your oven. It helps keep the oven’s temperature more consistent, because the stone itself acts as a stabilizer by soaking up energy during the pre-heating process and then emitting it during the baking process. It makes the oven have to do less work to keep the heat at the same temperature, and so the bread is treated to a consistently high heat.
2. You need some way to induce steam into the oven, at least once in the beginning. The process that I have found to work is best involves a cast iron skillet and ice. I put the skillet in on the baking stone when I am preheating the oven, so that when I put the bread in, the oven, baking stone, and cast iron skillet are all 425 degrees. I slide the bread in and close the door. I go to the freezer and scoop some ice into a bowl. I return to the oven, open it, grab the cast iron skillet (using pot handle), and dump all the ice into it. THEN I SHOVE THE SKILLET BACK IN THE OVEN AS QUICKLY AS I CAN. The ice immediately starts steaming, sizzling and hissing as it turns to steam. You shut the oven door and watch the steam start to cook the outside of the crust. I do this at one more period during the baking process as well.
This is at least the second, maybe the third time I have attempted French bread, and by far my greatest success. I took it to Nate Navarro’s last night for our slumber party, and the guys there said it tasted really good, but they would eat just about anything, so it’s not really a gourmand’s approval. My family liked it, and they don’t hide the criticism, and my mom even exuberantly suggested we use it to make bruschetta tonight with dinner. Recommendations don’t come much more genuinely than that one.