Well, guys, I did it! I managed to make bread that looks gorgeous, and tastes great--chewy and airy, with a dense crunchy crust and slightly sour tangy flavor. And I didn't cry once during the process.
I need to sing the praises of my Kitchenaid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. In 3 minutes, it had kneaded the most perfectly elastic dough, which I couldn't begin to do in 15 minutes of arm-breaking kneading.
Also, for those of you that tried to help me with a recipe, I decided to try the French Bread recipe right out of the Kitchenaid manual (I had it out to see about what speed to knead with). I am shocked by how good it turned out. I think the baking time ran a little long, I shortened it by 5 minutes in my recipe below.
makes 2 loaves
2 packages active dry yeast
2.5 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, melted
6.5-7 cups all purpose flour (I highly recommend King Arthur's)
1 egg white
1 Tbsp cold water
Warm your mixing bowl under hot water. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add salt, sugar, butter, and 6.5 cups of the flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer, and mix on speed 2 until well blended (about 1 minute).
Knead on speed 2 for about 2 minutes longer. Add the remaining flour if the dough is creeping up over your dough hook, it is too wet. Dough will be sticky and should form a ball around the hook.
Place dough in an oiled bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place, away from drafts, for 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.
Punch dough down and divide in half. Roll each half into a 12x15 inch rectangle. Roll the rectangle of dough up tightly, tapering the ends if you so desire. Place loaves on greased baking sheets that have been dusted with cornmeal. I placed one of the loaves in a loaf pan to make sandwich bread, and it worked great. Cover the loaves and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
With a sharp knife, make 4 diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crusty on the bottom. Remove from oven. Beat egg white with cold water, and brush egg wash over each loaf. Return to oven for 4-5 more minutes, until shiny. Remove from baking sheets immediately and cool on a wire rack.