Refrigerator French Bread

Yield:2 loaves
When I was in high school, I baked bread frequently on the weekends for my family. We all preferred home-baked bread to store-bought for our breakfast toast. This bread was one that I baked occasionally for my mother when she was having a dinner party. The dough is made up and formed into loaves, then refrigerated for 4-24 hours to rise and baked for about 25 minutes, making it ideal to bake last minute before guests came. The thin, crisp exterior and nice soft interior is a nice contrast and the flavor developed by rising slowly in the refrigerator is wonderful. The recipe comes from Bake Bread by Owlswood Productions.

2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. canola oil
6 1/2 - 7 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. cold water

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.

2. Add sugar, salt and oil. Stir in 2 cups flour and beat at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth. Add 1 cup flour and beat again at medium speed until smooth.

3. Gradually add additional flour, enough to make a stiff dough, mixing well by hand after each addition so that the dough is well blended.

4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover loosely with a light towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

5. Divide dough in half, form each half into a ball and shape into two long loaves, 15 inches in length. Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place loaves on sheet and cover loosely with a light towel and plastic wrap.

6. Store loaves in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours (the longer the better). When ready to bake, remove from the refrigerator, uncover and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F while the bread is sitting.

7. With a very sharp knife, make 4 diagonal slits on top of each loaf. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

8. Remove from oven, brush with egg white mixed in 1 tablespoon cold water. Return loaves to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes.

9. Remove loaves from baking sheets and cool on wire racks.