Bread of Necessity


I know that homemade bread used to be, and for many still is, a necessity. When there’s no place to buy a loaf of bread there is only one option if you want a sandwich: make your own! I now find myself forced to develop my bread-baking skills or go without one of my favorite foods.
A couple of weeks ago I attempted French baguettes. The dough was a success but the loaves didn’t fit in my tiny boat oven. They were short, fat, and smooshed together on the baking sheet. I liked the way the dough went together so much, though, that I went back to the recipe when our store-bought bread ran out this week. However, this time I threw the whole hunk into a loaf pan that easily fit in the oven.
After mixing, kneading, waiting, kneading more, waiting more, and finally baking, I pulled my best loaf to date out of the oven. This is the first time my bread has actually developed a crust! The rich brown, wheat loaf had a genuinely crunchy/chewy exterior and nicely textured crumb. It was still a little on the short side, perhaps because I insist on using whole wheat flour and perhaps because I didn’t wait long enough for the second rise.
At any rate, Lee and I fresh, hot slices of bread with butter as part of our lunch yesterday. We also shared a couple slices with visiting sailors and they were especially impressed by the crust. When they asked how I’d done it, I could only say that I had followed the directions…sort of. I did not pour boiled water into a pan in the bottom of the oven as the Joy of Cooking suggests. I did, however, put my bread into a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes and then turn the temperature down to 350 for another 30 minutes of baking. I suppose that’s where the crust came from!
I think what I like most about this recipe is that I don’t have to worry about water temperature or proofing the yeast. The water in our boat’s tanks is as room temperature as it gets. Everything just goes together in a big bowl. I don’t mind the kneading as long as the dough isn’t to sticky.
Now that this loaf is almost gone I have a sponge starter in the warm galley cabinet all ready for a new and different bread!


French Bread
From Joy of Cooking

Makes 2 baguettes (or one large loaf)

4 cups all-purpose flour (I got away with 2 cups wheat flour and 2 cups white wheat flour)
2 teaspoons salt
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

Make a well in the center of these ingredients and pour in
1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature

Stir thoroughly until the dough is soft and elastic, about 12 minutes on low in a mixer (I kneaded mine for 12-15 minutes).
Cover dough with a clean cloth or place in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat with oil and then covering with plastic wrap.
Let rise in a warm place (75-85 degrees F) until doubled in bulk (about 2 hours).
Punch down the dough and shape into baguettes or into one loaf.
To shape baguettes, divide the dough in half on a floured surface and shape into 2 rectangles. Roll each rectangle away from you, pressing outward at the same time, to form a long, thin loaf.
Place baguettes on a greased cookie sheet, leaving room for them to double in size, cover with a clean, floured cloth and let rise in a warm place until somewhat less than doubled. Score the tops of the loaves.
If you are making a single loaf, shape the dough accordingly and place in a lightly oiled loaf pan.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Preheat a baking pan in the bottom of the oven and fill it with 1 cup of steaming hot water.
Bake bread on center rack for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and make for about another 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Five minutes or so before the bread is done, brush the top with 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water (I skipped this; no egg whites to spare).
Remove loaf/loaves from oven and let cool completely on a rack.

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