I owe my family a very large amount of gratitude for raising me the way they did. Not only were they loving, understanding, and fostered creativity, but they all came from a long line of Bread Devotees, making Damn sure my sisters and I followed suit.
The only thing I remember my family Ever being Conservative about were the resources in our kitchen. If we wanted something in particular, we used what we had no matter how inconsistent the results. My grandmother especially made this clear, "No use in wasting gas to get to the store only to pay what They think you should pay for it!" We spent a lot of time in the Canned Food Warehouse, the Wonder and/or Hostess stores where they cut day-old items close to pennies. It was fantastic! Every once in a while when the moola was a bit more extensive, we'd get little extravagances here and there to supplement our cupboards for the odd baking hair up our butt. Whatever we got, it would get used sparingly and Momma kept a sharp eye on the level of Vanilla in the bottle.
My grandmother made bread A Lot, which at the time was delicious to eat at home but I took for granted those sandwiches she made with that bread for my school lunch. I wish I could go back and punch Little Me in the face! I should have been waving that homemade bread around in the air, hailing all that is made of yeast and flour! Not hiding my lunch in shame for fear of the Lunchables Kids shunning my uniqueness.
I am not ashamed now. I love bread so much. And, in trying not to sound like a foodsnob by saying this, I just don't feel satisfied by the stuff available to buy at the commissary, commercial or bakery, anymore. It's just not my bag. I'm trying at every chance to keep us stocked in bread goods that have been kneaded by my own hand. It takes some time getting used to, but it's worth it.
So, when it comes to saving some money on the carbohydrates I love, I've been learning to use what I have to make the bread I want. This includes tortillas and bready-desserts. Just by stocking the ingredients to make it myself, I've been saving at least $20 on our grocery bill in bread products. I decided that this was something I should share just in case anyone might decide to save themselves some $$ too. And believe me, if you knuckle down on a day off from work or any other responsibilities you may going on, it can be fun and satisfying! Plus, most of the recipes I've come to use (and will share, shortly) regularly don't require your full attention since they take several hours to develop on their own. Other things can be achieved while you wait, and you'll definitely appreciate saving the money you would've spent on store-bought bread (you're paying for the slicing of the bread and the bag, People!) and pocketing it for other groceries or for a rainy day.
I am warning you though, these are purely to satisfy your taste buds and your wallets...you may find yourself up at midnight slicing cheese to go with that umpteenth slice of bread! Don't say I didn't warn you!!
Country French Bread
(Oh hell yes . . . )
Sponge Starter (begin 2-16 hrs ahead)
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 tsp active dry or instant yeast
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
All of the sponge starter (above)
1 cup lukewarm water
3/4 tsp active dry or 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 3/4 to 4 cups bread flour
1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt
Making the Sponge
Stir all of the sponge ingredients together to make a thick, pudding-like mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and store in a dry, warm area for at least 2-4 hours.
Making the Dough
Stir down the sponge with a wooden spoon and add the water, yeast, sugar, most of the flour (adding a half cup or so at a time, retaining at least 1/2 cup for later), and salt. Knead the dough, adding more flour of the amount required as needed, for about 10-12 minutes.
NOTE: Mix ingredients together using up to 80% of the flour needed. The dough needs to be pliable, loose and a bit messy. Let it rest for 10-12 minutes and you'll see that the texture smoother out. Continue kneading it and adding flour as you need it. The flour needs time to absorb the water while resting so that you use as little flour as possible. Less flour means the bread will have more holes and be fluffier once baked.
Lightly grease a glass or plastic bowl and a sheet of plastic wrap with olive oil. Place the dough in bowl and cover with the greased wrap. Wet a couple of connected paper towels and drape over top of the plastic wrap. Set aside in a dry, warm area for at least 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.
If you'd prefer, let the dough rise slowly in the fridge if you're heading out. Once it has been in the fridge a while, allow it to come to room temperature; it will warm up and rise at the same time.
After it's first rise, deflate the dough very gently with your wooden spoon, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl so you aren't knocking the air out of it. The holes are important to maintain! (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!)
Form the dough into a round ball. Place two cookie sheets on top of one another, grease it lightly and dust with cornmeal. Gently place the ball of dough on the cookie sheets, seam-side down. cover it lightly with the same dampened paper towels and let it rise a second time until it's puffy and about 50% larger, anywhere from 45-90 minutes. Slash or crosshatch the top of the dough with a sharp knife, and dust with a little flour.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Fill a deep baking dish with approx. 6 cups of water and place it on the bottom rack of your oven, placing the second rack in the middle position. Once the water in the pan begins to steam, place the bread in the oven and reduce the heat to 425. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, it will be a light golden brown. Yields 1 large round or 2 medium rounds. 10-12 servings.
Mmmmmmm....some sexy bread!