“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
Since the summers are so hot here in the South, I've been perfecting my bread baking technique in the wee hours of the morning. Okay, maybe not wee hours, but certainly early so I can use the oven at high temperatures and then turn if off before the house gets too warm. I'm also baking multiple loaves at once and storing them for later in the week, just as our ancestors did. I don't have one specific baking day, just when I have too much dough or not enough baked bread! The photo above shows two Pain d'Epi ("stalks of wheat", perfectly shaped to tear off a piece and get plenty of crust!) and one baguette, freshly baked this morning. They are a blend of rye, whole wheat, and bread flours with a sprinkle of sea salt and savory on top.
Since my staple recipe is a lean rustic artisan loaf (i.e., a slack, wet dough with no fat) with a long slow rise, I mix the dough a day or so before, deflate and fold it after the initial rise, and store it in the refrigerator so it has a retarded fermentation period. This adds greatly to the flavor, as well as the convenience. On baking day, I get out as much dough as I need (about 10-12 oz per loaf), shape it, and let it rise. I preheat the oven to 425-450 degrees F in the convection mode, slash and mist the dough, and pop it in the oven with steam. When done, I cool the loaves completely for 1-2 hours (depending on the size, thickness, and shape of the bread), and then freeze them in ziplock bags (sucking the air out with a straw, which is always Jeff's favorite part to watch as it makes me look pretty silly).
The best trick is reheating. I put the still-frozen loaf in a brown paper bag (long, thin sacks from the wine store work great for baguettes), fold the end under, and run the bag under the water faucet for just a second or two on each side (this keeps the bag from burning in the oven and provides some extra moisture so the bread doesn't dry out as the crust crisps). Just heat in the oven at around 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes (this is all flexible, so if you're baking something else, just stick it in and adjust the time depending on the temperature). Out comes warm, crisp, chewy bread, as if it were freshly baked! This also works for any kind of store-bought French bread, boule, baguette, or other crusty bread.