Lesson Five, Number 10: Use Good Ingredients
10. Use Good Ingredients
French bread is just flour, water, salt, and yeast. Since that is all you have to work with, you ought to use decent quality ingredients.
Just as I did in Lesson One I still insist that you can make really good bread with standard grocery store all-purpose unbleached flour. But for the cost of a cup of coffee, you can get a bag of high protein bread flour that will make even better bread. It isn't hard to come by: just about every grocery store carries at least one brand of fancy flour, whether it be Bob's Red Mill or on the West Coast, King Arthur in the East, or another brand that is available in your region or country.
The tap water in my area is excellent, so I have no problems baking with it. But if your water is high in minerals that could throw off the flavor, consider spending a buck or two on a bottle of distilled water. Folks here have also reported considerably better yeast activity when using distilled water.
Some folks swear by sea salt. I use kosher salt that is about a dollar more expensive than standard table salt. I can't say for certain that it makes a difference, but it is a small investment to make.
When it comes to yeast, there are a lot of different varieties out there. I've heard great things about SAF Instant Yeast. I'll admit, I've never tried it. But if your yeast is old and about to expire or not really seeming to do the job, seriously, toss it out and buy fresh yeast. And if you are going to bake more than a couple of times a month, buy yeast in bulk or by the jar or bag, not in the little pouches. You'll save a great deal of money.
Buying all of these costs less than going out and buying a new CD or DVD. If you going to be baking regularly, it is a worthwhile investment.
On to Number 9: Use a Preferment.