Most of us have many things we are grateful we learned from our mothers. My own list is long, but near the top is my love of food and cooking, which I definitely inherited from her. Growing up, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen together and one of her lessons that really stuck with me was what a joy it is to make bread. Until you’ve tried it, you might feel daunted by bread baking but fear not! It’s actually quite easy to turn out a delicious loaf with great texture and I’ve provided a very detailed step-by-step for you to follow.
This particular recipe is my favourite because it’s straightforward to make and the baguette-style loaf it produces is so tasty and versatile. Although bread baking requires patience because of the rising time, it’s a great kitchen project for little ones who will welcome the playtime while they wait between stages. You can shape it into freeform skinny loaves or fashion a tinfoil ‘trough’ to hold the dough into a traditional baguette shape for its final rise and baking.
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp active dry yeast
pinch white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
Put the water in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast and sugar over top. Let sit for four to five minutes until it’s foamy. Kids will enjoy watching the yeast activate and come to life; it’s up to you if you want to tell them that yeast is a fungus.
When yeast is foamy, add salt and flour then blend with wooden spoon until mixture comes together in a shaggy ball.
Transfer the sticky dough to a lightly-floured work surface.
Flip the dough over several times so the outside is coated with flour then knead for about three minutes. Never kneaded dough before? Here’s a description of the process: With your fingers, gently fold the dough in half toward you. Then, with the heel of your hand, push the dough down and away from you, firmly but lightly, in a rolling motion. Give the dough a quarter turn. Repeat folding, pushing, and turning steps, adding only enough flour every few turns to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and to the work surface. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth on the outside, springs back when pressed on with your fingers and is no longer really sticky.
Shape the kneaded dough into a ball and transfer to a clean bowl that has about 2 tsp of flour scattered inside. Sprinkle the dough ball with another teaspoon or two of flour and turn it to coat with the flour on all sides.
Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. In a rush? Turn your oven on to 170F for three minutes, then turn oven off and put the covered bowl in the warm oven. The dough should double in about one hour.
Once the dough has doubled, shape your loaf by turning the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Repeating the process that you used to knead the dough, work it gently for a few turns so that the floury surface gets incorporated into the middle of the ball, then gently roll the ball on the counter with your hands to form a long cylinder, about 12 – 14 inches long. The ends should be somewhat tapered.
The dough will spread out as it rises so if you want to preserve the long skinny shape, create a trough about 3 ½ inches wide out of a doubled sheet of aluminum foil and line it with parchment then place it on a baking sheet.
Place the dough in the parchment paper-lined trough. If you aren’t concerned about the finished shape, just place the cylinder of dough on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.
Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside to rise at room temperature for 45 minutes; the cylinder should increase by half its size.
Preheat oven to 425F.
When the oven is up to temperature, slash the cylinder of dough diagonally at 3-inch intervals with a very sharp knife. These gashes will allow steam to escape during baking.
Using a pastry or silicone brush, lightly brush the top of the dough with lukewarm water. This will help it develop a golden crust.
Bake the bread for 25 minutes, or until it is golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and cool the bread on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Makes one irresistible loaf.