Artisan French Bread for the Best Turkey Sandwiches, Ever!

Artisan French Bread for the Best Turkey Sandwiches, Ever!

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I feel like bread baking, because it’s cold and rainy and it’s that kind of day.  I added up the actual hands-on time with this bread, and it came to less than 15 minutes over two days.  It’s no big deal, seriously!

The day after Thanksgiving, our family has brunch, and then we take off to hunt down all of our Christmas trees.

Oregon is the biggest supplier of Christmas trees in the nation.  We can cut down a 7 or 8 foot, beautiful specimen (meaning, not trimmed with electric hedge trimmers) for only about $35.  If you don’t have a big, strong man available with a hand saw, the farm’s workers will happily help you.  Well, they seem happy, anyway.  Who am I to say?  Sounds cold and back-breaking to me.

After tethering the tree to the top of our cars, we usually head back home here to eat turkey sandwiches (and chips!  Potato chips!  Yeah.  The ones that you can’t eat just one of!)  Heaven on a big, fat plate.  Pass the chips.

I was thinking that I don’t have any good French Bread for our turkey sandwiches.  This is the same recipe I used for my post on French Rolls for Thanksgiving (click here).  Only the shaping and baking time is different.

This is a two-day process, which actually makes it easier for you to do at own leisure.   I’m tellin’ you, it’s very easy to do and takes very little time and energy.  But the results are awesome!

It just took me 9 minutes to get my dough proving upstairs in the loft.  5 of those minutes were the dough just sitting there, taking a little snooze.

Maybe you don’t have 9 minutes.  I get it.  And I feel your pain because, for many years, I didn’t, either.  In that case, go out and buy whatever type of bread that will make you and your turkey sandwiches happy.

Speaking of being happy….  I am going to give you the most amazing recommendation for you and your friends and family for Christmas.  Buy one for yourself and read it.  Then you’ll race back to Amazon and get one for all the overachieving perfectionists in your life.

This little gem of a book is called Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen.  If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard of her.  She’s an amazing novelist and writer, and you should definitely get to know her.  Start with “Black and Blue” or “One True Thing.”

This is a very tiny, very short book.  It probably totals 5 pages in length (it contains some quirky black and white photos of the old days).  I have kept our own copy for years and just last night, experiencing my typical pain-induced insomnia, I re-read it.  I stand by my recommendation.  Here’s the Amazon link:

When I was a young mom with 4 kids (to date), I had a friend who was this massive perfectionist.  I swear, you could eat off of her kitchen floor.  Even her laundry room looked like something out of a magazine, with not a laundry basket or piece of clothing in sight.  I kept a pretty clean home, but hers kind of gave me the creeps.  Sort of a Stepford House.

One day, we had some sort of school function (we were classroom moms), and she was fretting.  She had planned on making Christmas cookies with her kids that afternoon, and now she was running late.  She had wanted to make the cookie dough from scratch, which I totally got.  But I told her to go buy a tube of refrigerator sugar cookie dough and have just fun doing the cookie cutting and decorating with the kids.  I said, you know, they could care less if you use homemade dough.  The part kids like most is the decorating (and eating).  I am pretty sure she never got to make cookies with her kids that year.  It had to be all or nothing.

What a shame.  I remember making cookies with my kids and cringing at the floury, sugary mess my kitchen became after about 20 minutes.  The disaster we created never stopped me from baking with the kids, but I never quite got over the cringing, either.

It would take me another 20 years and a whole lot of bread baking to accept the floury messes I created.  Today, it’s “meh.”  I just feel so darned enlightened!  And I’m here to say, it’s pretty liberating.  Don’t wait til your 50’s to conquer your inner perfectionist.

If you’ve ever wanted to try bread making, this is a really good one to try.  And it’s an EASY one to try.  So, go for it!  It doesn’t have to be perfectly shaped, it doesn’t have to impress anyone.  It needs to taste good and you’ll have the satisfaction of learning something new and knowing you made it yourself!

This recipe is from my one and only bread book, Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.  Throughout the years, I have learned, with his careful tutelage, to make sourdough bread, Ciabatta, French Bread, bagels, Challah, and English muffins, among others.  His explanations are clear-cut and easy to follow.  With practice, well, if I could get it, anyone could.  Just read the instructions carefully.

I’d have to admit that, if you’re a bread novice, dinnertime with the kids running around the house, screaming and whooping it up, is NOT the time to be attempting this.  I raised 5 hellions, now all happily grown up and well behaved, and that’s why I waited so many years to learn so many culinary skills.  Because, frankly, there was never a quiet moment in 32 years of being a “Mom.”

Looking back, well, I’m sorry I didn’t kick them out of the kitchen and into the family room, just so I could have learned some fun lessons like these awesome rolls.  Guess I was just too exhausted.

But if you have a neighbor you could exchange a few hours of babysitting with, or a helpful husband or grandma, take a couple of hours and make these.  You will feel so accomplished and everyone will be reaching for seconds.  By the second time you try this recipe, you’ll be a pro.

And, if you have a baker on your Christmas list, consider this book.  It got me completely out of my comfort zone and into a place where I now consider myself a pretty damned good bread maker.  Inspire someone today.  It’s well worth the cost, and a whole lot cheaper than 6 month’s worth of classes at the Community College!  Here’s the Amazon link:

Ok, let’s go.  We are making one, huge loaf for sandwiches or dinner.  This is an easy process, but it’s important you read this CAREFULLY (Jenna!), and follow every instruction to the letter.

5  cups unbleached bread flour

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast (one packet)

2 cups lukewarm water (about 95°F or 35°C)

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl.  If using a standing mixer, use a paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute.  The dough should form a coarse, shaggy ball.  Let it rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 2 minutes.  The dough should be tacky but not sticky.  (“Sticky” means when you touch the dough with your finger, some of the dough will stick to you.  Tacky is just – tacky).

Shaping Dough #1Now, knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured work surface for about 1 minute.  Transfer to a clean, lightly oiled bowl.   Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Prove for 90 minutes (or more) at room temperature (not a warming oven or proving oven) or until double.

Now for the shaping:

Line an unrimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Bread ShapingUnlike some types of bread, you will NOT be punching the dough down before shaping.  You want to be gentle, so you don’t de-gas the loaf.

Gently empty out the dough onto your work surface.

Gently pat the risen dough into a thick rectangle.  Fold the top half to the center and press with your fingertips to hold the dough in place and seal the seam (see first photo, above).   Fold the bottom half to the center and, once again, press with your fingertips to seal the seam.

Bread ShapingNow, roll the top half of the dough over the seam to create a new seam at the bottom of the loaf.  Pinch the new seam closed with your fingertips to create surface tension on the outer skin, making a tight loaf.

With the seam-side down, gently rock the loaf back and forth to extend it to the desired length.  If you want a shorter, fatter loaf, it’s ok to put your hands on both ends and give them a little push toward each other.

Transfer the shaped loaf onto the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, seam side down.  Mist with oil, then cover the shaped dough loosely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate it overnight, keeping it away from anything that may restrict its growth (including little hands).

Shaped BreadOne hour before baking, take the uncooked loaf out of the fridge and preheat your oven to 500°.  The loaf (or loaves) should have risen 1 1/2 times.

You’ll be baking the loaf on the middle shelf of the oven.  If you have a baking stone, place it on this middle shelf.  On the lower shelf, place a rimmed cookie sheet.  This bottom one has to have a rim, because you’ll be pouring hot water into it!

Set your timer for 50 minutes.  Don’t go farther than you can hear your timer go off.

The minute your timer goes off, gently remove the plastic wrap.  Now set your timer for 10 minutes.

When the timer goes off, it’s showtime!  Microwave one cup of water, until it’s nice and hot.

Turn down your oven to 450°.

Take a large serrated knife and slice your loaf.  Hold the knife at a sideways angle (not pointing straight down at the counter).  Make 3 slashes in your loaf, toward you, but diagonally down the middle.  The depth of the slash should be fairly deep, about 1/2 inch.

Open up the oven door (careful – it’s hot in there!) and place your cookie sheet with the rolls on the middle rack.

If you have a baking stone, gently place the cookie sheet toward the back of the oven, onto your very hot baking stone.  Make sure you’re not holding the parchment – it will stay with the loaf in the oven.  With a few quick tugs, pull the cookie sheet toward you, until the loaf and paper are now on the baking stone.

Now, take your two towels and cover the glass on your oven door.  This is so the hot water you’ve nuked doesn’t drip onto the glass and shatter it.  You’d be surprised how many times that problem has shown up on Google.  This is not a problem you want to be dealing with, right before Thanksgiving.

When the oven glass is covered, take your oven mitts and carefully pull out the bottom rack about 4 inches.

Stand back and very slowly pour your hot water into the bottom, rimmed cookie sheet.  Remove the two towels.  Carefully, with your oven mitts, close that bottom rack.  The facial sauna you just gave yourself will help to ensure a crispy exterior on the loaf.

Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate your loaf.  Bake another 12 minutes.  Fully insert the thermometer in the end of the loaf, pointing away from you.  When it hits 200°, your loaf is done.

If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, get one!  My life has seriously changed for the better, since I got this little baby.  This will also make sure your turkey doesn’t over or under-cook!  Here’s the Amazon link:

If you don’t have one, you can pick up your loaf with a dry towel and check the bottom for color and then tap several times.  It should sound hollow.

Let the loaf cool completely on a rack.  You can store it in a heavy duty freezer bag in the fridge for several days, and take it out of the fridge early on the day you’ll be eating it.  If you’ll be eating it with Thanksgiving dinner, you can pop the room temperature loaf into the oven once the turkey comes out, for about 10 minutes at 375°.  (So, if you’ve been cooking your turkey at 325°, you’ll want to turn it up.)

I hope you’ll try this.  You’d be surprised how proud of yourself you’ll be, if you’ve never attempted homemade bread.

Good Luck!  Vicky

You don’t need to read this part, if you don’t have a baking stone and don’t want one:

If you don’t have a baking stone (which I highly recommend!), you can find them at Goodwill often enough.  Here’s a link for a new one on Amazon:  If you’re lucky enough to find one in a thrift store, you can usually score one for about $10.  Even if you find one that is blackened and a bit chipped, go for it.  Even the shiny new, expensive ones get that way, with time and use.

Good Luck!



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