French Bread

It has been eons since I have baked a classic French Bread.  I usually skip right over it in favor of egg rich breads or breads with different flours and flavors.  In my years of baking bread I have learned two things  1) practice makes perfect and 2) that said practice needs to be continuous.  This is one of the reasons – although, there are many of them, most of which revolve around taste – for why I am an advocate of sour dough starters for bread baking beginners.  It forces you to keep tabs on your starter throughout the week, and bake bread semi-regularly.  With this in mind, I am going into this project expecting mixed results.  I’ll be using the French Bread, Pain Ordinaire, recipe found in Hensperger’s The Bread Bible.

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French Bread

Recipe makes 3 boules.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm Water (105 – 115 F)
  • 4 1/2 tsp Dry Active Yeast
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 3 cups Bread Flour
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • ~ 3 cups Flour
  • Cornmeal for sprinkling bread pans
  • 1 Egg + 2 tbsp Water for the Egg Wash

Directions:

  1. Stir the yeast and sugar into the warm water, and then set it aside to dissolve and foam (~10 minutes).
  2. Beat in 2 cups of the bread flour and the salt.
  3. Continue to beat for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl.
  5. Knead the dough:
    1. 1-3 minutes with a bread hook
    2. or 5-8 minutes by hand
  6. Place the dough in a lightly greased container, and cover with plastic wrap.
  7. Allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
  8. Punch the dough down.
  9. For the second rise:
    1. 1 hour room temp.
    2. or, if you have the time, set it in the refrigerator overnight.
  10. Preheat the oven to 400 F. (450 F if you are using a baking stone. Reduce the temp to 400 F right before baking.
    1. Place a tray in the bottom of the oven for ice cubes – if you are not going to mist the bread by hand.
  11. Gently form the dough into three boules (round balls) or three long baguettes.
    1. Use a light dusting of flour if the dough is sticky
    2. Set the boules on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet.
  12. Cover the boules in plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow them to rest for another 30 – 45 minutes.
  13. Lightly, slice the top of each boule with a knife (less then a 1/4′ deep), and brush an egg wash over each boule.
  14. Bake for 35-40 minutes – misting or placing ice cubes in the beginning.
  15. Loaves should sound hollow when tapped, and be a crusty brown on the outside.

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Notes for Improvment:

  • Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before forming boules: I have a really cold fridge (as expected at this time of year in Vermont) and the dough was so cold that it was almost frozen making it hard to form an even boule and messing with the proofing.
  • Over sliced: I went for a tick-tac-toe design on top of my boules before placing them in the oven.  Next time I should just use a simple cross.
  • Taste – Excellent.
  • A nice crisp crust, soft chewy interior, and no big air bubbles.
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