French-style Bread

So, some of you (not very many, by the way) read my post about Crème brûlée, and will remember that I said that I hate making pastries and desserts. Well, don’t think that my dislike of pastries extends to all baking. I love baking bread. There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh bread baking in the house, and it’s fairly simple. Okay, I just said baking bread is simple, well, that’s not really true, I should have said that it’s easy.  Allow me to explain.

Basic bread is composed 4 basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. You can vary things around a bit and add things, but basic bread is basic bread. That’s what I tell you about. To talk about this in a way that will help you understand the process better, I going to use some terms that professional bakers use. Here goes:

Autolyse: a simple process of adding the water to the flour covering it with plastic wrap and walking away for 20 minutes. During the Autolyse process   the flour is fully hydrating (sucking up all that water) and gluten strands are forming, More about gluten in a minute.

Fermentation: the process of yeast digesting water and flour to create co2 gas. It’s the co2 that causes the bread to raise. The gluten strands are the supporting framework. Home bakers call that the 1st rise. Bakers call it fermentation because it is the same process that turns all that grain and stuff into beer.

Gluten: see, I told you we’d get to this. Gluten is strands of protein that form when you add water to wheat flour. When you knead the dough that forms you increase the number of strands of gluten, strengthen them, and make them longer. These strands of gluten are what give the bread it’s structure.

Rounding: rounding is the process of of taking the ball of dough, cupping  your hands around it and dragging it across a clean table or counter until it forms a nice ball with the skin on top nice and smooth.

Proofing: the process of taking the shaped loves, covering them with plastic wrap and letting them raise again. What home bakers call the 2nd rise.

Oven Spring: the effect of heat on the live yeast-beasties, which causes the loaf to “spring” into a larger shape.

Yeast: a single celled organism, technically classed as a fungi, used in the fermentation of bread and alcoholic beverages. The same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used in both. I call these little guys yeast-beasties.

Formulas: bakers, especially bread bakers, don’t use recipes, they use formulas. They talk about ratios and percentages. So, we’ll also talk about formulas, okay? For a better understanding of the whole ratio/percentages thing go back and look at the January 18, 2010 post called “Playing the Percentages”. It spells the whole thing out.

So, shall we venture forth and follow a simple/easy formula and bake some bread?

French-style Bread


A Stand mixer: I use a stand mixer to knead the dough, it’s quick and easy. If you don’t have a stand mixer and are thinking about getting one, this would be a good time to go right out and buy one. We’ll wait. While we’re waiting, let me tell you that if you don’t have a stand mixer and don’t intend to buy one, you will be developing some pretty powerful upper body strength by kneading by hand. Ah, I thought so. The rest of us will wait until you also get back from the store with your new, shiny mixer.

1/2 Sheet Trays: sometimes called cookie sheets. they need to be large enough to hold 2 baguettes.

Big Mixing bowl:  1st use is for mixing the dough, if you don’t have a nice shiny stand mixer. 2nd use is for fermentation.

Bench knife or scraper: to scrape dough off the counter or table and to cut dough into pieces.

Digital scale: one that will show ounces and pounds, with a capacity of over 10 lbs.

Instant read Digital Thermometer: you’ll use this for more than just baking.

Parchment paper: cut to fit the 1/2 sheet pans

Spray bottle filled with water

Pie tin

Razor blade:

Formula: to slash top of loaf with

48 oz Bread flour

28 oz warm water (temp should be between 70 and 85 F)

1 oz kosher salt

1 oz dry active yeast


Combine flour and water in mixing bowl and mix until the dough is a mass (if using a stand mixer, use a dough hook; if mixing by hand, mix with a wooden spoon) Autolyse the mass.

Put mixer on 1st speed and add yeast, and knead for 4 minutes. If working by hand, turn dough out onto floured surface, flatten dough, sprinkle yeast on top and kneed by hand for 10 minutes, folding the dough in on it’s self and rotating 1/4 turn every time.

Put mixer on 2nd speed and add salt and knead for 4 minutes or so, or until the temp of the dough is around 80F. If kneading by hand add the salt and knead until internal temp of the dough is around 80F.

Remove dough and round it, then place in a bowl or container, spray with nonstick spray, cover with plastic and lace in a warm place until doubled in size.

Remove from bowl and gently release the built up co2, this is called  “Punching down”, but don’t be violent with the dough, just deflate it.

Using your bench knife or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 13 oz pieces, round, cover with plastic

After all the dough has been rounded, one by one flatten and elongate the dough into a rectangle. Fold one of the long sides in about a 3rd of the way across, and using the heel of your hand push on the seam until it’s closed. Turn the dough around and do the other side. Using your thumb and forefinger, pinch that seam closed.

Turn the bread seam side down and with your fingers splayed out, start rolling the bread into a 20″ long tapered loaf. Do that for all the loaves, put on parchment paper covered 1/2 sheets, cover with plastic wrap and let proof for 20 to 30 minutes.

Place a pie tin in the bottom of your oven and fill it with water, turn stove on to 500F

Using the razor blade, make 3 long slashes about 1/4″ deep in the top of every loaf. This gives the steam that builds up some place to escape.

After oven comes up to temp let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, to make sure it is really there. Refill pie tin if necessary, and spray water into the oven. After 5 minutes place bread in oven and spray walls of oven with water. Open the door and spray again with water after 3 minutes.

So, you’re asking, how do we know when the bread is done? Several ways: 1st the color of the bread will be a nice golden brown, 2nd the loaf will sound hollow when you thump the bottom, 3rb, and the best, by the way, an instant read thermometer will read 190 F when the bread is finished baking.

Put the loaves on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Really, I know you want to eat it hot out of the oven, but all you will taste is gummy flour and steam. This is a fairly decent bread and should really cool completely before eating.

Fresh loaves, cooled off and ready to eat
Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 8:48 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Wow. I seriously did not know how involved bread making is! You’re amazing! Save me a slice for Tuesday! 😛

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