Thursday, March 12, 2009

The BEST french bread, EVER!!!


I was a huge fan of Abby Mandel in the 80’s.  I bought all of her cookbooks, poured over all of her recipes again and again, and never made anything of hers that wasn’t totally awesome.

I had just gotten my Cuisinart, which I thought, and stlll think, is the greatest workhorse in the kitchen,and was always looking for new ways to use it.  Hubby bought me the largest size Cuisinart made, oh what an extravagance it was... 

The year was 1978, I was a young mother, twenty-eight years old, with two sweet little boys and I loved to cook for my family. We were on a Christmas shopping trip to Cincinnati with Charlie and Nisha, and  I was so thrilled when he bought it for me, so excited that I still remember it vividly to this very day!  I can’t remember exactly how much he paid for it, but it was expensive, I’m thinking around two hundred twenty-five dollars,  so it was quite a major purchase for us. I still have it, sitting proudly in my kitchen, front row center, and I use it all the time 

Oh my, it’s over thirty years old now, much loved, and still runs like a champ.  LC has asked me repeatedly if I wouldn’t like a new one, no way, I ADORE my old Cuisinart, and if it ever quits working, I’ll just have it repaired.  I have wonderful, wonderful memories using it, no way would i ever replace it.

This recipe for french bread is from my favorite of all her books, Abby Mandel’s Cuisinart Classroom. It became an instant hit in our family and I’ve made it again and again. The boys make it also, in fact, John made it just a few weeks ago.  I’m showing the recipe as she published it, but the Notes show the changes I made to it.  It’s a wonderful bread, especially if you braid it.  Veronica’s family loves it, also, V has learned to make a great looking braid from her dough over the years.

If this book intrigues you also, you can usually find it for sale on eBay.

Basic French Bread, Abby Mandel's Cuisinart Classroom, 1980


1 large egg
1/2 tsp. salt
Process with metal blade and salt for 2 seconds, reserve.  Do not clean work bowl.

Note:  I only use egg whites, I think using a whole egg gives it too much of an eggy taste.


1 package yeast
1 teaspoon sugar, optional (I add 2 tablespoons additional sugar, because we like it sweet)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 cups bread flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup all purpose flour )

NOTE: I use 3 cups bread flour, no all-purpose


Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in a small bowl and let the mixture stand for 10 minutes or until foamy.  If you omit the sugar, the mixture will not foam.

Metal Blade: Put the flours and salt in the work bowl and turn on the machine.  With the machine running, add the yeast mixture through the feed tube.  Process it for 40 seconds or until the dough is uniformly moist and elastic.  If it is too wet, add flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, processing after each addition until the dough is of the proper consistency.  Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and rotate it to coat the surface with the oil.

Preheat oven to the lowest temperature for 2 minutes and turn it off.  Cover the bowl with a damp towel and put it in the oven, cushioning the bottom with a potholder.  Let the dough rise for 1 hour or until it has doubled in bulk.

Put the dough on a heavily floured board and work in enough flour so that it is easy to handle and no longer sticky.  Divide it in half and roll one half into a rectangle.  Starting at the short side, roll up the rectangle into an oblong loaf.  Pinch the ends and seam tightly, Put the dough seam side down into an oiled double French bread pan sprinkled with cornmeal.  Roll and shape the remaining dough in the same manner.  Cover loaves with a damp towel and let them rise again, for 45 minutes or until almost doubled, following the instructions for the first rising.  Remove pan from oven.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle level and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Make several slashes in the tops of the loaves, brush them with the reserved glaze, taking care not to drip the glaze on the pan.  Bake the loaves for 28 minutes or until they are deeply colored and sound hollow when rapped on the bottom.  Remove the loaves from the pan and le them cool on a wire rack.  Makes 2 french loaves.

For bread that stays fresher longer and has a softer texture, decrease water by 2 tablespoons and add 2 tablespoons of butter to the dough after you add the yeast mixture.  Knead dough as directed.

For sesame seed bread, add 1/4 cup sesame seeds to the flour

For herb bread, mince 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1 teaspoon of snipped chives, 1 large scallion, and 2 teaspoons of dried dillweed.  Add them to the flour and reduce the liquid by 1 tablespoon.

For wheat germ bread, add 1/4 cup wheat germ to the flour.

For cheese bread, use 2 ounces of chilled cheddar, swiss or mozzarella cheese or 2 ounces of parmesan cheese at room temperature  Shred it with the shredding disc using light pressure and add to the flour.

NOTE: I bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then add glaze, and bake another 10-15 minutes.  I think the 425 oven is too hot.  To make braid, divide dough into 3 pieces, roll into 3 logs, starting to braid in the middle of the loaf, not at the edge, start in middle, braid to one end and tuck end under, sealing with a bit of water, then go back and do the same with the other side.

If you are using 2 french bread pans to make 2 loaves, it needs to be a baguette size, if you have a regular french bread pan, I just make it into one loaf.

I also never use a whole egg, , I just whip an egg white and brush the bread with it, then sprinkle it with sesame or poppy seeds.

This is a wonderful recipe, it sounds a bit complicated, but it isn’t.  It’s well worth the 3 hours you spend to make it.  I usually add the butter to it, as we like it soft.

If you want it really crispy, just omit the butter, and toss a few ice cubes on your oven floor periodically as it bakes. The ice will melt, create steam and help to crisp the bread.

~ jan

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