Baking The Perfect Bread

French BreadQ. What is the secret to baking perfect bread that is chewy and has a crisp crust?

A. These days, excellent bakeries and specialty stores abound, and we’ve become accustomed to wonderful breads with great flavor and texture. Achieving those results at home, however, isn’t easy. This is primarily because home ovens aren’t designed for bread baking. Most are made of a relatively thin metal rather than being lined with stone, so maintaining consistent high temperatures can be difficult. Also, they don’t have built-in steam injectors to keep the moisture at the optimum level for that perfect bread. Fortunately, there are ways to imitate those conditions in your oven. Always be sure to preheat the oven well. To keep the temperature as steady as possible, avoid opening the oven door during baking. Use a baking stone ??????? once preheated, it will hold heat in and provide the ideal surface. Another choice is to line the bottom of the oven with unglazed tiles to help retain heat. To create steam, either set a pan with a cup of hot water on the bottom shelf of the oven, or use a spray bottle to spritz inside the oven several times during the first few minutes of baking. Do this as quickly as you can, and aim for the walls and floor of the oven, avoiding the bread itself and the oven’s light bulb. The humidity will keep the crust from setting and thus stop the expansion of the bread too soon, while at the same time it will help to crisp the crust. Baking requires precision, so if you don’t already have one, buy a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients. A cup of flour should weigh four ounces exactly ??????? any more and your bread will be too dense and heavy. And always proof your yeast ??????? test that it is still alive ??????? by dissolving it in warm water (105 to 115 degrees) and waiting about 10 minutes for it to become creamy before mixing the rest of the dough. This can mean the difference between a light, airy loaf and a doorstop.

Source: Ask Martha, Martha Stewart Living