Fast French Bread or Rolls

MAKES: 3 or 4 baguettes, 1 boule, or 12 to 16 rolls

TIME: About 2 hours, largely unattended

This bread can be made by hand or with an electric mixer (see left), but the food processor, as usual, is the tool of choice and will save you tons of time.

31/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons salt

11/2 teaspoons instant yeast

Put the flour in the food processor, add the salt and yeast, and turn the machine on. With the machine running, pour about a cup of water through the feed tube. Process until the dough forms a ball, adding a little water at a time until it becomes smooth; if the dough begins sticking to the side of the bowl, you’ve added too much water. No harm done: add 1/4 cup or so of flour and keep going. You’re looking for a moist, well-defined ball. The whole process should take about 30 seconds, and it will once you get good at it. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If it is too wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour and process briefly.

Dump the lump of dough into a large bowl or simply remove the blade from the processor bowl and leave the dough in there. Either way, cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature.

Use a small strainer or your fingers to dust a counter or tabletop with a little flour. Shape the dough as you like, into small loaves, one big one, baguettes, or rolls (see the illustrations on Shaping Boules), sprinkling with flour as necessary but keeping the flour to a minimum. Preheat the oven (see Baking) to 400В°F while you let the loaves or rolls rest, covered with a towel.

When you’re ready to bake, slash the top of each loaf once or twice with a razor blade or sharp knife (see Shaping Boules). If the dough has risen on a cloth, slide or turn it onto floured baking sheets or gently move it onto a lightly floured peel, plank of wood, or flexible cutting board, then slide the bread directly onto a baking stone. Or you can bake on lightly oiled baking sheets. Turn the heat down to 375В°F.

Bake until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is at least 210В°F (it can be lower if you plan to reheat the bread later). Remove, spray with a bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool on a wire rack.

Variations

More Leisurely and Flavorful French Bread or Rolls. Basically, all you do here is slow down the process, which improves the quality some: Step 1 remains the same. In Step 2, let the dough rise longer to help it develop flavor 2 or 3 hours at room temperature or up to 12 hours refrigerated (bring it back to room temperature before proceeding). In Step 3, after shaping, let the loaves or rolls rise for 2 to 3 hours (or longer, refrigerated, bringing them back to room temperature before baking). Steps 4 and 5 remain the same.

Whole Grain French Bread or Rolls. You can add color and flavor to this bread by adding whole wheat, rye, or barley flour or cornmeal, alone or in combination; or you can use a 7- or 9-grain preblended flour. Simply substitute the whole grain flour for some of the all-purpose or bread flour. If you keep the addition to 1/2 cup or less, you will retain the great texture of this bread. You may add much more up to one-third of the total amount of flour, or just over 1 cup and still have a very good bread with a crisp crust. Adding more than that produces the soft crust and doughy crumb typical of breads high in whole grain; better, at that point, to make one of the other breads designed specifically for whole grain, like Black Bread.