Eric Akis: Knead away stress with a rustic French loaf

Eric Akis

Judging by how little flour I saw for sale at supermarkets last week, it appears many people have stocked up. That’s not surprising, since folks staying close to home have time on their hands and want to do some baking, to enjoy now and/or freeze for later.

With regard to baked goods you can enjoy now, homemade bread is certainly one of them, and I have two recipes for you to try.

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One is for yeast-leavened French-style bread that you can slice and use for your morning toast, French toast, garlic bread and sandwiches. You can also serve it with cheese, soup and stews.

My other recipe is for cornbread wonderfully flavoured with sautéed onions, cheese and herbs. Cornbread is classed as a “quick bread” because it’s leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda and doesn’t need to rise before you bake it.

The cornbread will go great with all sorts of things, such as chili, eggs, baked beans, soups, spicy stews, barbecue foods and fried chicken.

Note: When buying flour, yeast and other leaveners, really think about how much you need. In other words, don’t hoard it! If you do, supplies in stores will become scarce and it will become hard for others to find.

One reader, a senior, told me it was impossible for her to roam around from store to store looking for flour. Remember that a five-kilogram bag contains about 40 cups, enough to make 13 large loaves of today’s bread recipe. One (113 gram) jar of yeast contains enough to make 14 loaves of that bread.

Rustic French-style Bread

Knead out the stress you’re feeling from the COVID-19 crisis by making this lovely loaf of bread.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus dough rising time

Baking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: One large loaf

1 1/4 cups lukewarm (not hot) water (about 110 F/43 C)

2 1/4 tsp active dry (traditional) yeast

1 tsp granulated sugar

2 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the bowl (see Eric’s options)

1 tsp salt

2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (see Eric’s options)

In a large bowl, combine water, yeast and sugar. Let mixture stand five minutes to dissolve the yeast. Mix in 2 Tbsp olive oil and salt.

Slowly add 2 1/4 cups of flour to the bowl, working it into the yeast/water mixture with a heavy spatula until a thick, fairly wet dough forms.

Spread 1/4 cup flour on a work surface. Gather the dough, scraping the sides of the bowl with the spatula, if needed, and transfer it to the work surface. Sprinkle top of dough with 1/4 cup flour.

With your hands, work the flour into dough. Now knead the dough seven to eight minutes. Sprinkle dough with a little more flour as you go along if it’s sticking to your hands.

Lightly grease a second large bowl with olive oil. Place dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 60 to 75 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Gently press dough, trying not to deflate it too much, into a nine-inch long, seven-inch wide rectangle. Fold the bottom third of the dough, letter-style, up to the centre. Fold the remaining dough over the top and press the seams alongside the sides and ends of the dough closed.

Set dough on the baking sheet. Cover with a light kitchen towel and let rise 50 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in sized again.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Uncover the dough. Now, if desired, with a very sharp knife, make a few very shallow diagonal slits about two inches apart on top of the dough.

Bake bread in the middle of the oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Cool on baking rack to room temperature, and it’s ready to enjoy.

Note: If you bought yeast in small packets, one eight-gram packet contains 2 1/4 tsp.

Eric’s options: Other types of oil, such as grapeseed, vegetable or avocado oil, will also work in this recipe. So will an equal amount of melted butter.

Whole-wheat flour could replace 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of the all-purpose flour. If you want to use a stand mixer to make the dough, dissolve the yeast, water and sugar in its bowl. Mix in the oil and salt. Now add 2 3/4 cups of the flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

If it’s still quite sticky, mix in some or all of the remaining flour. Mix and knead the dough for another five minutes. Let dough rise as described in the recipe. This dough could also be used for pizza.

Cornbread with Herbs, Cheese and Onion

Yummy cornbread you can serve with all kinds of dishes, such as eggs, chili, soups and barbecued foods.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

Makes: One large loaf

1/4 cup + 1 tsp olive or vegetable oil (divided)

1 cup finely diced onion (about 1/2 medium to large onion)

• vegetable oil spray

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups milk

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/8 tsp dried sage

1/2 tsp salt

• pinch garlic powder and cayenne pepper (optional)

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Heat 1 tsp oil in a non-stick skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add onions and cook and stir until tender and light golden, about five minutes. Cool onions to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Evenly grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch (1.5 L) non-stick loaf pan with vegetable oil spray (see Eric’s Options).

Beat egg in a medium bowl. Mix in milk and 1/4 cup oil.

Thoroughly combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, oregano, basil, sage, salt and garlic powder and cayenne, if using, in a second medium bowl. Stir in cheese and onions.

Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and mix until just combined. Spoon the batter into the pan. Bake in the middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until the loaf springs back when touched gently in the centre.

Cool loaf in the pan on a baking rack 15 minutes, and then turn it out. Enjoy cornbread warm or at room temperature.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have vegetable oil spray, you could grease the pan lightly with oil. For plain cornbread, simply omit the herbs/spices, onions and cheese. To make 12 cornmeal muffins, grease a 12-cup non-stick muffin tin with vegetable oil spray or oil. Spoon the batter into the pan. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until muffins springs back when gently touched in the centre.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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