Bob's Fritalian Bread
This bread, as the name suggests, is a cross between French and Italian bread. It's the best bread I've been able to produce if you don't count my Foolproof Bread and it still has its charms. You don't have to start this bread the night before, it takes less equipment, and it can be made in a wider variety of ovens (it works in the tiny oven of an RV, for example). It makes loaves somewhere between a French Baguette and regular Italian pane. I normally start it around 10:00 in the morning and it comes out of the oven by 5:00 in the afternoon.
I used to make the bread with King Arthur European-style Artisan flour but it's hard to find, expensive to have shipped, comes in tiny packages and, the last time I checked, King Arthur refused to let grocery stores special order it (a monumental marketing error, in my opinion, since it's their best flour). I've since changed to Bob's Red Mill Unbleached White flour (no relation). I think it produces slightly better bread, It's relatively inexpensive to order, and I can get it locally. You can make this bread with regular unbleached flour. It won't be quite as good but it will still be great bread.
- 3 cups bread flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 package Quick-rise yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Sprinkle of corn meal (optional)
- Put the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Mix them up well.
- Pour in the warm water and mix well with a sturdy wooden spoon. The first two steps will take you under ten minutes. Mix until it seems like the water is evenly distributed through the dough. Don't go crazy here, but try to make sure there are no clumps of dry flour left when you're done. There's no need to trickle the water in while stirring -- just dump it in.
- When the dough is mixed, pour in the tablespoon of olive oil. Mix it in with the spoon but not completely. Having the outside of the dough a little oily will help keep it from sticking to the bowl as it rises.
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Leave a little sag in the center of the wrap so the expanding bread won't push it off. Put the bowl aside, but don't put it near a heat source. You want a long slow rise. I put it in the microwave.
- Let the dough rise about 4 hours hours, punching it down once or twice during that time (twice on a warm day, once on a cold one).
- Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and cut it in half. After about 10 years of doing this, you'll be able to get the two halves equal most of the time. The dough will be somewhat sticky, so you might want to put oil or flour on your hands. It helps to use a non-stick work surface such as marble, or a Roul'pat Pastry Mat.
- Fold each ball of dough in half twice, then flatten it out, and let it rest for 20 minutes. Turn it so the largest side up so any cracks of folds are on the bottom. When you flatten it out, try for a roughly rectangular shape about twice as long as it is wide.
- After the dough has rested, flatten each dough piece again. Use some muscle here (you want to see some stretch marks in the bread). As before, try for a rectangular shape. If there are some bubbles in the bread, you can expect an especially good finished loaf. Try to get it down to about a half-an-inch or less in thickness.
- Rotate the surface the dough is on (or move yourself) so that the longest edge of the dough is away from you. Reaching across the dough, grab that edge and roll it towards you with your floured fingers until you have a long, thin tube of dough.
- Crimp the seam on each end of the dough with your fingers and tuck it under slightly. Then, crimp the long seam down the side at least twice with your fingers. Make sure it's completely joined together. Roll the dough so that the seam is down.
- Oil a baking sheet or one of those double-curved French bread pans. You can use a perforated one like this, but I actually prefer a non-perforated one. If you know where to get one, let me know and I'll put up a link. Don't use a baguette pan (too small). You can dust the pan with corn meal for a slightly crisper bottom crust (don't bother if using a perforated pan). If your dough is still wet, and you are using a perforated pan, you might want to line it with parchment paper to keep the dough from sticking in the holes.
- This step is a little tricky. You need to transfer the dough to the pan. You want to pick it up by the ends but without letting the middle sag. Work your fingers under each end and push your hands together slightly as you lift, then move the dough quickly to the oiled bread pan.
- Let the dough rise for one to two hours. The warmer the room, the less time it needs. When you poke the dough with two fingers and the dents don't bounce back, it's done rising.
- While the dough is rising, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius).
- When the dough is ready, put about 12 diagonal slices in the top of each loaf. I used to use a single-edge razor blade but it's tricky and can ruin the dough. Now I just use a pair of scissors. It doesn't look quite as good, but it's much faster and more reliable.
- Pop the pan into the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. As soon as it's in, you want to add some moisture to help with the spring rise in the oven. Some people use boiling water in a cookie sheet on the bottom of the oven, some people use an expensive steam injector or an even more expensive Italian bread oven. I usually use a plant mister and mist four times, one-and-a-half minutes apart. Be careful not to spray the bread or your oven light (it can break). If I'm feeling lazy, I just toss an ice cube or two in the bottom of the oven.
- Bake at 400 degree Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 (175 degrees Celsius) and bake for 45 minutes more. Don't open the door.
- At the end of the 45 minutes, the bread should be a nice golden brown. When you take it out, it should sound hollow when you thump the bottom. If it doesn't, cook it a little longer the next time.
- If you'd like to add a little class to the bread, you can glaze it. Briefly beat together one egg white, a pinch of sugar, and a teaspoon of water. Pull the bread out about five minutes early and apply the egg mixture with a pastry brush. You can add poppy seeds at this point if you like. If you use the poppy seeds, glaze a small section and add the seeds, otherwise the glaze will dry and the seeds won't stick. Put it back in the oven for the last five minutes.
- Dump the bread out onto a cooling rack and let it cool for about an hour.
This bread is best when it's fresh but it freezes surprisingly well if you wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Here's the timing I use (starting around 10:00 in the morning) to get the bread done around dinner time. If you eat later in the evening, you can push things back:
- 10:00 - Start mixing the bread
- 12:00 - Punch down the dough (on a hot day, punch down at 11:00 and 12:30)
- 2:00 - Remove dough, cut in half, fold over twice, flatten, and let sit for 20 minutes
- 2:25 - Flatten again and roll into loaves
- 2:30 - Set aside to rise
- 3:00 - Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius)
- 4:00 - Put the bread in the oven and add moisture
- 4:15 - Turn heat down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Celsius)
- 4:45 - Remove to cool
Pressed for Time?
There's a much abbreviated form of this recipe that will still make quite edible bread. Just skip the first couple of rises. Start around 2:00 in the afternoon. After mixing the dough, go right to step 6. Dump the dough out, cut it in half, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Follow all the rest of the steps as written and the bread will still be ready to eat by 6:00 at the latest. If you eat at 8:00, you can actually start the bread at 4:00 or even a little later and still have it ready for dinner. The crumb will be less open and the taste will be much less complex, but it's still infinitely better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.
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— Bob Ray