lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

French Country Bread

I think the only thing better than eating freshly-baked, crusty, chewy bread is how divine it smells while it’s baking. Even just the dough rising in a bowl on the counter is enough to fill the air with a delicious, yeasty aroma.

I enjoy making my own bread while playing around with different flours and methods of making it. Years ago, I shared with you my Quick French Bread recipe, which really is an easy, quick yeast bread as far as yeast breads are concerned. It occurred to me over the weekend as I was making this loaf of French country bread that I’ve not shared any other bread recipes with you since then, so I’m here to rectify that. (Well, I’ve also shared my Zucchini Bread recipe, but that’s not quite the same)

This recipe starts with a preferment (also called a starter, sponge or poolish) which needs to sit for 10 hours, so it’s easiest to make the starter a day ahead of time. This takes a little pre-planning but the starter is very quick and easy to make.

lola rugula homemade french country bread

French Country Bread Recipe

To make the starter, combine in a small bowl:

  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Stir together and let sit for 5 minutes until mixture is cloudy and small bubbles can be seen. Add:

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour

Stir with a fork until everything is combined and then whisk with a fork for about 100 strokes. The mixture should be a creamy, pudding consistency, with long strands following your fork as you stir it.

Using a spatula, gently scrape the mixture into a pile in the middle of the dish. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Let sit at room temperature for 10 hours.

10 hour later….

  • 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water
  • 6 cups unbleached white bread flour + about 1 cup extra for kneading
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Oil for resting the dough
  • Cornmeal for baking
  • Spray bottle of water for misting
Directions:

In a large bowl, combine 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast and 2 1/2 cups warm water. Stir well with a fork and let rest for 5 minutes, until cloudy and small bubbles can be seen.

Add the sponge to the new yeast mixture and stir gently with a spatula until all of the large chunks of sponge have been incorporated into the new mixture.

You should see the mixture start to bubble from all the yeast.

Add:

  • 6 cups of unbleached white bread flour 1 CUP AT A TIME, whisking with a fork with each addition until well blended. Do not worry about chunks of sponge/dough being visible – it will all come together in the end.
  • Tip: Pick 6 of some item that you can move across the counter to help you count the cups. This assures you won’t lose track of the cups you’re adding, should you forget or get interrupted. I use small glass beads but honestly, you can use toothpicks, pens, magnets…whatever works!
  • Tip 2: Make sure when you’re measuring your flour that you use a spoon to fill the measuring cup and a spatula or butter knife to level it off. Never use the measuring cup to scoop flour right out of the bag or shake the cup to level the flour – this packs it down and throws off the measurement
  • The mixture will not really begin to form a mass until about the 3rd cup
  • After adding the sixth cup, mix well and scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface
  • Sprinkle the dough with 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • Knead mixture for at least 10 minutes, adding additional bread flour to keep it from being overly sticky
  • At the end, the dough will form a beautiful ball that holds together, isn’t overly sticky and shows no obvious small bumps on the surface. It will be long strands as you knead it that hold together and roll into each other.
  • Form into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes
  • Turn into a well-oiled bowl (I use olive oil) and then flip the ball of dough so that it’s coated with oil on both sides
  • Cover with a towel and let sit until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours
  • Gently scrape out the dough onto a work surface and divide into 2
  • Shape each half into a ball – I do this by just gently tucking the edges underneath it and form a ball that way. The less you play with and less you deflate it, the better.
  • Lay a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan and sprinkle liberally with cornmeal
  • For even baking and browning, bake one loaf at a time
  • Place ball of dough on prepared sheet pan
  • Using a very sharp knife, gently score 4-5 shallow slices across the top of the bread
  • Let rest for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 425Âș

Spritz the top of the dough with water

Bake for 35-40 minutes, spritzing the top of the bread with water every 10 minutes or so.

Remove from oven and let rest at least 30 minutes before serving.

lola rugula french country bread

Freshly-baked bread is a beautiful thing.

There are a number of notes on this that I’d like to add:

  • I realize that activating the yeast in water is no longer considered necessary by many. I’ve made bread like this for so long it’s a habit for me and I always want to share with you the exact way I make things.
  • If you don’t have a spray bottle or don’t want to hassle with spraying the bread, fill a short pan or baking-safe dish with hot water and place it on the oven rack under your bread while it’s baking
  • If you only bake occasionally, keep a jar of yeast in your freezer. This keeps it fresh and active long past its expiration date.
  • If you don’t have bread flour, you can use all-purpose flour instead. Bread flour does have more protein in it, which helps make a loftier, chewier bread, but all-purpose flour will work just fine.
  • Be aware that a number of factors can affect bread making, including room temperature and humidity.

lola rugula how to make french country bread

This also bakes beautifully on a cornmeal -dusted baking stone. I’ve done it both ways and the stone does give it a bit more of a crusty-crust. (Is that a term?)

This is a lovely, rustic bread that, as you can see above, slices beautifully for sandwiches. It was also perfect with my big weekend meal of homemade meatballs and sauce. Personally, all it really needs though is a fruity olive oil or swipe of Kerrygold and you’re good to go.

Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

quick french bread

I always say I’m not a bread person but if you give me great loaf of warm, crusty bread that’s still soft and chewy in the middle, I’ll probably gnaw your arm off to get some.

The beauty of this bread is it takes full advantage of fast-rising or quick-rising yeast. This makes it possible to knock out a loaf of French bread in less than 2 hours.

I’ve made a lot of homemade bread and this one is 3 of my favorite things in the kitchen:

  1. Easy
  2. Fast
  3. Delicious

Are you with me?

quick rise french bread recipe lola rugulaThis only makes one loaf so feel free to double this recipe if you want 2 loaves. It keeps and freezes well, I just love it fresh out of the oven.

Quick and Easy French Bread Recipe

  • 2 1/4 cups flour + 1 cup more to work the dough with
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 package fast rising or quick rise yeast
  • 1 cup hot (125 degrees) water

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt and yeast.

Add the hot water all at once and mix well.

Drop your dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, adding your extra cup of flour a little at a time. The key here is this: keep adding your extra flour just enough to keep the dough supple but still a little sticky. It shouldn’t be a sticky mess – if it is, keep working in your extra flour reserve – but don’t add so much flour that it becomes dry and flaky. A little moistness is good here.

Once it’s reached a firm but slightly sticky ball, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, grease a baking sheet. If you’d like, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of corn meal on the oiled pan.

Once rested, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. Rolling from the 15 inch side, roll the dough up like a jelly roll and pinch the end together to seal. Place on baking sheet, seam side down.

Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Using a sharp knife, slice a few diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep across the top of the loaf.

Bake the loaf in a 425 oven for 25-30 minutes. Let rest if you can wait that long, otherwise, if you’re like me, slice right in and enjoy.

quick rise yeast french bread recipe lola rugula

Now you know you can customize this a bit if you’d like:

  • Right before baking, brush with a mixed wash of 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon water for an extra-crispy crust
  • Toss a few teaspoons of herbs or chunks of roasted garlic into the dough before kneading
  • Try it with your favorite flour or a mix of flours

I hope you’ll try this! Imagine it warm out of the oven with some lovely jam or fruity olive oil. Again, it’s easy, fast (for bread) and absolutely delicious.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

zucchini bread recipe

Zucchini bread is a must-make for me come the end of summer. It’s a great way to use some of my zucchini overload and, bonus, it freezes really well. This comes in handy when the days are cold and I’m craving some.

lola rugula homemade zucchini bread recipe

Zucchini Bread Recipe

  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 7-8 gratings from a whole nutmeg
  • 3/4 – 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

I love King Arthur’s Unbleached White Whole Wheat Flour, so this is the type of flour that I use for this recipe.

lola rugula homemade zucchini bread recipe

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and then add the sugar, canola oil, shredded zucchini and vanilla. Mix well.

lola rugula homemade zucchini bread recipe

Then add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix very well.

lola rugula homemade zucchini bread recipe

If you’re adding the walnuts, stir them in and mix well again.

Let the batter rest while you preheat your oven to 325. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans well. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.

Place in prepared loaf pans and bake for approximately 1 hour and 5 minutes.

After removing from oven, let loafs cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Using a butter knife or spatula, run it along the sides of the pan, between the bread and the pan, to loosen the bread. Carefully tilt the pan on its side and then upside down, wriggling it a bit with your hand to gently loosen it and remove the bread. Let loaf cool.

lola rugula homemade zucchini bread recipe

I admit that I make this a morning project when the weather starts to cool. I generally make 2-3 batches of these. One is for us, one is for my parents and the rest go into our freezer. I’ll make at least one more round of these – probably 6 or so – in the coming weeks.

There is nothing like a slice of warm zucchini bread to make my morning complete.

lola rugula homemade zucchini bread recipe

This recipe is from my mom and, though I’ve tweaked it a bit throughout the years, it’s always turned out fabulous. Sometimes it takes 5 more minutes or so in the oven but the flavor is always rich and satisfying. I hope you like it!