Fresh baked bread is an elusive trick that a lot of chef's cannot grasp. I too thought that I needed to make a blood pact with a demon or perhaps perform black magic human sacrifices to pull it off. Pastry is not my forté. Pastry chefs and "regular" chefs are not built from the same cloth. Most pastry chefs were raised in loving environments that encouraged learning math skills for fun. They follow the rules and bake sweets as holiday gifts. "Regular" chefs were mostly beaten or unloved as children and developed just enough math skills by either dealing or taking drugs. Those skills learned in our debaucherous youth helps us measure ingredients by volume (just replace the speed with flour). Frankly we just can't be bothered to measure things by weight. Such a hassle. Recipes are seen as a list of possibilities. It's super rare for us to look at a recipe and follow it word for word. We glance at recipes and then do what we want. Rules are for fools.
Once in a while the swords cross and stereotypes get broken. There are some badass rebel pastry chefs out there. They have managed to overcome the scientific nature of pastry and throw caution to the wind. There are also more and more 'regular' chefs who actually know math (not just drug measuring or money counting math). They can bake and they do it proudly. It's like monkeys learning sign language. It's not that uncommon but still very impressive.
I don't claim to be one of those chefs that have a knack for baking. I don't. However, with a little divine intervention I produced a really yummy loaf of French bread. Crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside. It's never too late to start baking. You may just surprise yourself. I sure did. When I pulled my bread out of the oven it felt as if I had just given birth. I caressed and coddled that loaf of bread until dinner time and then I cut it open and ate it all.
5 cups all-purpose flour
.65 ounces (about 2 1/2 packets) packets active dry yeast
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon water
In a large bowl, combine half the flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the 2 cups warm water, and beat until well blended using a mixer with a dough hook. Stir in the remaining flour.
On a lightly floured surface, knead to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Knead for about 8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball. Place dough in an lightly olive oil greased bowl, and turn once. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
Punch the dough down, and divide in half. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Form each loaf into a long oval (French bread shaped)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Using olive oil lightly grease a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Place loaves on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth. Let rise until nearly doubled, 35 to 40 minutes.
Lightly beat the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water, and brush over the loaves. With a very sharp knife, make 3 or 4 diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep across top of each loaf. Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Brush again with egg white mixture and sprinkle sea salt on top. Bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until bread tests done. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. You have just baked delicious handmade bread! Congratulations.