French Bread

Yes, I realize I have posted three updates today, but with the shower and just the fact that I’ve been cooking and baking up a storm in my kitchen lately, I am still quite behind on posting all the delicious new goodies I have made!  My good friend Chelle and I decided to tackle another recipe together this week and she suggested this French bread.  She tried making this a few days ago and had an unfortunate incident just before baking which ruined the whole thing 😦  (Read her story here.)  I’m glad I decided to give it a try because OH MY GOSH, this is really fabulous bread.  It is every bit as good as any French bread from a bakery and I know I will be making it again and again.  It is fantastic on its own as a snack, served alongside a meal, or could become the vehicle for a meal itself as a sub sandwich or bread salad, as Chelle so brilliantly suggested.

I really didn’t have any issues with this recipe.  I did use cooler water than the recipe recommends for making the dough (about 105 degrees) as I was afraid of killing the yeast.  The dough came together fine and rose well so I’m not sure such a high temperature is really necessary.  This recipe takes a lot of time but the vast majority of that is idle, just rising time.  After dividing my dough into four pieces, I made two into baguettes and then decided to recombine the last two pieces to form a larger couronne.  It ended up looking like a giant bagel but I kind of like it that way 🙂  French bread should make slight crackling noises while it is cooling.  I found this quite thrilling and held my ear next to the bread, listening intently to the sound of my success.

French Bread
Yield: 4 baguettes, boules, or couronnes

6 cups bread or unbleached flour, approximately
2 packages dry yeast
2 1/2 cups hot water 120-130° F)
2 teaspoons each salt and water

Baking Sheet or Pans:  1 baking sheet, teflon or greased and sprinkled with cornmeal, or 4 baguette pans, greased.

Mixing the dough: By Hand or Mixer (10 mins)
The early part of this preparation, beating a batter, can be done by an electric mixer.  However, don’t overload a light mixer with this thick batter.  If by hand, stir vigorously for an equal length of time.

Measure 3 or 4 cups of flour into the mixing bowl and add the yeast and hot water.  The mixer flat beater or whisk should run without undue strain.  The batter will be smooth and pull away from the sides as the gluten develops.  It may also try to climb up the beaters and into the motor.  If it does, push it down with a rubber scraper.  Mix for 10 minutes.  When about finished, dissolve the salt in the water and add to the batter.  Blend for 30 seconds or more.

Kneading: (10 mins.)
If the machine has a dough hook, continue with it and add additional flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough has formed under the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl.  If it is sticky and clings, add sprinkles of flour.  Knead for 10 minutes.

If by hand, add additional flour to the beaten batter, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring first with a utensil and then working by hand.  When the dough is shaggy but a solid mass, turn onto a work surface and begin kneading with an aggressive push-turn-fold motion.  If the dough is sticky, toss down sprinkles of flour.  Break the kneading rhythm occasionally by throwing the dough down hard against the countertop – an excellent way to encourage the development of the dough.

First Rising: (2 hours)
Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for 2 hours.  The dough will more than double in volume – and may even be pushing against the plastic covering.

(If prepared with a new fast-rising yeast and at the recommended higher temperatures, reduce the rising times by about half.)

Second Rising: (1 ½ hours)
Turn back the plastic wrap and turn the dough onto the work surface to knead briefly, about 3 minutes.

Return the dough to the bowl and re-cover with plastic.  Allow to rise to more than triple its volume, about 1 ½ hours.

Shaping: (10 mins)
The dough will be light and puffy.  Turn it onto the floured work surface and punch it down.  Don’t be surprised if it pushes back, for it is quite resilient.

Divide the dough into as many pieces as you wish loaves.  One-quarter (10 oz) of this recipe will make a baguette 22″ long and 3″ to 4″ in diameter.

Allow pieces of dough to rest for 5 minutes before shaping.

For boules or round loaves, shape the pieces into balls.  Place in cloth-lined baskets (bannetons) or position directly on the baking sheet.  For baguettes, roll and lengthen each dough piece under your palms to 16″ to 20″ , and 3″ to 4″ in diameter.  Place in a pan or on a baking sheet or in the folds of a long cloth (couche).

This loaf’s characteristic couronne or “crown” can be made in several ways.  One is to flatten the piece of dough, press a hole through the center with your thumb, and enlarge the hole with your fingers.  Another is to roll a long strand 18″ to 24″ and curl into a circle, overlapping and pushing together the ends.  Yet a third way is to take 2 or 3 shorter lengths of dough and join them together in a circle, not overlapping top and bottom but pressing the ends together side by side into a uniform pattern – this one will be irregular but attractive.

Third rising: (1 hour)
Cover the loaves with a cloth, preferably of wool, to allow air to reach the loaves and to form a light crust.  Leave at room temperature until the dough has risen to more than double its size, about 1 hour.

Before preheating the oven to 450° F (very hot) 20 minutes before baking, place a broiler pan on the floor of the oven or bottom rack so it will be there later.  Five minutes before baking, pour 1 cup hot water into the hot pan.  Be careful of the burst of steam – it can burn.

Baking: (450° F, 25-30 min)
Carefully move the loaves in baskets and in couches to the baking sheet.  Make diagonal cuts down the lengths of the long loaves and tic-tac-toe designs on the boules.

Place on the middle shelf of the oven.

The loaves are done when a golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.  Turn one loaf over and if the bottom crust sounds hard and hollow when tapped, the loaf is done.

(If using a convection oven, reduce heat 50 degrees.)

Place on a rack to cool. 

Source:  The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, originally from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads

4 Responses

  1. I haven’t had a good piece of French bread since moving 3 years ago. I will have to try this! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Your bread is gorgeous! You did such a fabulous job slashing! I had so much fun baking this with you, I can’t believe how in sync we were. Beautiful bread!

  3. This looks amazing… nice crust and a soft interior! Great job as always 🙂

  4. Your bread looks amazing Annie!! Excellent job.

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