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French country bread - by Conrad Gallagher food

French Country Bread

“Country bread”, also called “French sourdough”, is typically a large round loaf made from either natural leavening or baker’s yeast. Most traditional versions of this bread are made with a combination of white flour with whole wheat flour and/or rye flour, water, leavening and salt. For centuries, French villages had communal ovens where the townsfolk would bring their dough to be baked, and the loaves weighed from 1.5–5.5 kg. Such large loaves would feed a family for days or weeks, until the next baking day.

Today this is still made in France and is enjoying a growing appreciation in the United States and the UK. When made traditionally, the dough can ferment for several hours, allowing the yeasts to grow and develop the flavours. The dough is then rounded and placed in linen-lined baskets called “bannetons”. After the dough has risen, it is dumped out of the basket and onto peel and slid into the oven where it bakes at around 240 °C for about one hour.

Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh yeast
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups bread flour

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups of bread flour
2 teaspoons of salt

Method

  1. The night before baking the bread prepare this starter: In a medium sized non-metal mixing bowl dissolve 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast in 1 cup warm water. Add 1 1/2 cup bread flour and mix well. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.
  2. The next day: In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the 2 teaspoons yeast in the 2 cups warm water. Add the starter mixture, the whole wheat flour, 3 cups bread flour and the salt; stir until well combined. Add the remaining bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  3. Grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and form into loaves. Place the loaves into the prepared pans. Cover the loaves with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

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