Now spread the garlic butter over one side of each slice of bread.
Arrange on a baking tray and cover with foil.
Bake in the oven for 10–15 minutes, removing the foil halfway through cooking.
*For the Italian bread
Take one loaf of Italian bread and remove the crusts from both ends. Cut into slices, about 1.25cm (½ inch) thick. Separate the number of slices usually required for a meal by a piece of baking parchment. (This makes it easier to remove just a few slices at a time from the freezer to thaw.) Wrap the bread and freeze in a suitable container.
When needed just thaw the required number of slices and follow the recipe above.
We enjoy lovely home-baked bread and if you would like to bake your own, you could follow Paul’s recipe for Crusty French Bread which works just as well as the Italian bread.
This crusty French bread is light and airy, with a beautiful crisp crust.
Baking bread isn’t difficult if you break the process down into 3 steps. Each step involves a ‘wait period’ during which you can get on with something else. For more information about the technique I use, here’s a link to my page on Breadmaking.
Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Add most of the water and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or a plastic dough scraper. If some flour is left in the bottom, add the remainder of the water. It may not need it all. Just make sure that all the flour has been taken up.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it to stand for 20-30 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare for the next step by weighing out the salt and yeast.
At the end of the 20–30 minutes, add the salt and yeast to the mixture, making sure that the yeast doesn’t come into contact with a wodge of salt, and mix well.
Cover the bowl with the tea towel and leave for 10 minutes.
Lightly oil your hands and the work surface, and tip the dough out. Take the edge of the dough that’s furthest away from you and fold it towards you to meet the near edge. Push it into the dough with your fingers or the heel of your hand, stretching it gently away from you. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Do this 8 to 10 times, then rotate the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl.
Cover with the tea towel again, leave for 10 minutes, and repeat the fold and stretch.
Cover again and leave for 10 minutes. While waiting, lightly oil another large bowl for the dough to rise in. Then fold and stretch the dough for a third time.
The dough should now be smooth and silky. Tip it out and shape it into a ball. Put it into the lightly-oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film.
Leave it to rise until it's at least doubled in size.* At room temperature, this should take a minimum of an hour but it's fine to leave it for 2–3 hours. The longer the better – it improves the flavour.
While waiting, prepare a baking tray and line with baking parchment.
Tip out the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and knock the air out by folding it in on itself a few times. It should feel smooth. Then flatten it out into a rectangle, with a short side towards you. Lift the dough from the furthest edge and fold it down towards you about half way. Press the edge down with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough round and repeat. Then roll the dough up away from you making sure that the join ends up at the bottom.
Place the dough on the baking tray, shaping how you want the loaf to end up. Lightly dust with flour and cover with the tea towel or cling film and leave to prove for at least another hour. You can tell when it's ready when it's doubled in size again and the dough springs back readily if you poke it gently with your finger.
Before the end of the hour, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F (gas mark 7).
Dust the top of the dough with flour and slash the top diagonally with a sharp knife. Add about 250ml/½ pint of boiling water to a roasting tray and place it on a rack at the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this makes the crust crispy). Then bake for 35–40 minutes or until nicely browned. Turn out the loaf and tap it on the bottom – it should sound hollow. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Many recipes recommend using warm water to make the yeast work more quickly. However, the flavour is improved if the process takes place more slowly. I use water at room temperature or even a little cooler.
* Doubled in size means doubled in volume. This means that if the dough is in the shape of a ball, the diameter increases by about 25%.