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French bread is a great addition to many a tasty meal: spaghetti and meatballs, homemade chicken noodle soup, even macaroni and cheese. It is super easy to stop by the grocery store and simply pick up a supposedly freshly made loaf of Safeway French bread. Sometimes the Safeway bread can suffice, but is it ever really exactly what you're looking for? Probably not. Grocery store French bread has somewhat of a generic taste to it—you want something more substantial for your meal. You need to make your own French bread—it may seem a little daunting and intimidating, but making your own delicious French bread is a piece of cake! (Well, a piece of bread!)
The ingredients are simple and easy to find:
Start off by dissolving the yeast into the warm water with the teaspoon of sugar. This is called proofing the yeast, and it's very important to do it correctly. You want your water to be on the hotter side of warm, but not too hot because then you'll kill the yeast. Mix the sugar and the yeast together in the warm water. You'll then just need to wait a few minutes for the yeast to begin rising. While the yeast is rising, however, you can spend the time waiting by preparing the dry ingredients for the bread.
Combine the shortening and the hot water together to melt the shortening. Allow the mixture to cool, and then add the yeast. Combine the salt and the tablespoon of sugar separately and add them to the yeast-shortening combo. Make sure to combine these ingredients in a large bowl (Tupperware works great). Mix in enough flour (which is usually about six cups) to form the dough into a ball. The flour should not stick to the sides of the bowl. Leave the spoon in the bowl.
Let the dough rise ten minutes and then stir (or pat it) down. Repeat four more times (five risings in all), rising and stirring each time. The great thing about this recipe is that while the bread is rising each of the five times, you can still do other things around the house. A great way to keep track of the how many times you've allowed the dough to rise is to cross off tally marks on a Post-It note. It's a quick and easy way to make sure that you're following the recipe.
Form the dough into two loaves and scatter cornmeal on a large jellyroll pan that has been lightly sprayed with Pam. Let the dough rise for 30 more minutes. Make three slashes on each loaf with a very sharp knife and brush each loaf sharply with a thin egg wash. Bake the loaves in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Once you pull the loaves out of the oven, you'll be set to go with two amazing homemade loaves of French bread!