Bob’s Bread Recipe:
Not really very difficult and a fabulous loaf. This is an approximate recipe developed over the years.
- 4-1/2 cups luke warm water
- 3-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast or equivalent
- 1 heaping tablespoon of salt
- 7+ cups white flour (Bread flour is best, but not necessary. Costco all purpose flour is goo, although Costco bread flour is better. Somethiing like Philbury is also fine. Higher quality flour like King Arthur is very good, but it is expensive, and you can do almost as well with less costly brands. For France, use T65)
- generous portion of olive oil (perhaps 1/3 cup)
Proof yeast in very large bowl of water for 5 minutes. Mix 5 cups flour with big spoon. Then add and mix one cup at a time until the dough is coming away from the side of the bowl. It should still be sticky and hard to handle, but firm enough to take out of the bowl. Then spread out on the counter with another cup of flour. Start to knead. This will be difficult at first because the dough will be so sticky and loose. If it is still too sticky, which is likely, then add more flour. Do not add so much flour that it does not stick to your hands. A stickier and looser dough makes a loaf that is less tight. This balance must be learned with a few efforts. Knead for 3-5 minutes so that the dough tightens up. More kneading brings out gluten for crustiness, but a huge amount of kneading is not necessary. Place back in bowl. Pour olive oil over dough and turn a few times, leaving a very generous coating of olive oil only on the outside of the dough. Raise bread overnight, at least 12 hours, but preferably 24 hours, in a warm place like an oven turned off with a light on, or an unused microwave with the light on. This creates flavor and texture. Preheat convection oven to 450 degrees. Turn dough out onto the counter after coating the dough in the remaining olive oil. Make two french style loaves and roll in coating of flour. Place in french loaf pans. You will need these because the dough should not have very much shape. Bake for about 1/2 hour or more. Watch to make sure that the loaf does not burn. You will want to turn the loaves over at about 20 minutes to get the bottoms of the loaves crustier. Bake as long as you can without burning too much. Convection oven helps, but is not essential for crustiness. Pan of water can increase crustiness. If you don’t have french loaf pans, add a little more flour to increase density and form, and bake on an a preheated oven stone, or flat baking sheet. You can use a bread hook and mixer to knead the dough. Then the dough will not your hands, which can help you not to add too much flour. A mixer also helps you to knead more. I don’t bother because then I must clean the mixer, and I prefer to feel the dough in my hands.
You can do this same recipe with whole wheat (in France, T155), but it will not be as tasty there is less gluten available to make a good crust. You can add gluten or white flour, but this defeats the purpose of using whole wheat for health purposes. I add chopped walnuts, pecans, or other nuts to help out the taste and consistency. Try to keep it really sticky if you are using whole wheat. Whole wheat takes a little longer to bake. This is not nearly the loaf, but much better for you, and it is rare to get 100% whole wheat in the store.