The following is how I make French style breads from a basic recipe.
Depending on the size and quantity of dough used, you can produce:
The only variation occurs between the first and second rise, where the dough is (maybe) divided and shaped
So Let's start making the dough.
Step 1: Basic Ingredients and Quantities
My basic ingredients are:
1) All-purpose Flour, preferably one free of preservatives. 1.5 lb. - 680 grams
2) Water - 2 1/8 cups - 17 oz - 500 cc
3) Yeast - 2 Tsp - 10 cc
4) Salt - 2 Tsp - 10 cc, (You can add more for taste if you prefer salty)
Note #1: Adjust water if you live in a very dry or very damp locale.
Note #2: I wrote a short instructable on why it's preferable to weigh flour than to measure it by volume (as in cups). It can be found here:
Step 2: the Knead
Mix Flour, Water and yeast
With the bread "J" hook run the mixer slowly until nearly all the flour is part of the dough.
Then run the mixer between slow to medium speed for 16-18 minutes.
- (On a KitchenAid in the pictures, it's setting #2)
NOTE: If you're doing this by hand, add another 30 minutes to the kneading
The longer you run past 16 minutes the more dense your bread will be.
Now without stopping the mixer, add the salt slowly so that it does not collect at the bottom of the mixing bowl and gets worked into the dough as it's being poured
Run the mixer for another 5 minutes.
Step 3: The Rest
Once the mixing and kneading is done, remove the dough with the hook and place on a floured surface.
With some flour on your and remove the hook.
Shape the dough into a ball, and lightly flour on all sides
Let it rest for 15-25 minutes so that the dough can relax
Note #1 - The last 2 pictures show how the ball has flattened out from relaxing.
Note #2 - How warm your kitchen is, will change the time for this relaxation.
Warmer = shorter, cooler = longer.
Do not let the dough start it's rise before the next step.
Step 4: First Rise.
Now that the dough has rested.
With lightly floured hands, gently stretch the dough and fold each end one on top of the other.
Repeat with 2 opposing corners.
And repeat again with the 2 remaining corners,
At this point the dough should be resisting any further stretching
Now shape into a ball and tuck under any seams, so that there are no visible seams
Flour lightly, and cover with a clean a lightly floured cloth.
Place in a warm place where it will not be disturbed.
If your oven has a bread rise feature, use that.
Let it rise so that it doubles in size.
When ready, the dough will feel spongy, when gently pressed. And any indent from that touch will slowly spring back.
This typically will take between 60-90 minutes
Note: Since I bake many times a week, I have a couple of cloths that I use and keep floured. Between uses they hang out of the way, so they can breathe and dry from the last use.
Step 5: Shaping
This is the part my kids always enjoyed when small.
You get to collapse dough, and if you do it right, you can make rude noises, and not be in trouble.
Flatten the dough, and try to make sure every bubble gets burst.
If you leave the dough uncut, you can make a round Boule, or a large Pain.
If you divide the dough 2 or 3 ways, you make Batards
If you divide it 4 or 5 ways, you get Baguette
If you divide it 6 ways, you get Ficelle.
The Boule looks great. The Pain is practical for making sandwiches. Batards and the large Baguette are suitable for all around use including sandwiches.
Ficelle is nearly all crust and just short of being a breadstick. It's great eaten fresh, or dipped in oil, garlic butter, tomato sauce, whatever other flavor you favor.
For our example, we'll make an 3/4lb Batard and 2 largue Baguettes. So we'll cut the dough into two equal parts, and then halve one of those parts.
For the Boule, just form another ball by folding and tucking the way you prepared for the first rise.
After cutting the dough into appropriate portion, roll the dough into a tube, while gently stretching it. Then simply roll the dough back and forth to make the tube the same size by rolling and working the dough towards the ends. Remember not to make it wider than your oven.
This is a great clip from Julia Child on shaping the dough for Pain, Batard, Baguette, Ficelle.
Then flour the dough and place the dough on the floured towel. If you can see a seam, place it seam-side up.
Cover the shaped bread dough. If your house is very dry, cover with a plastic sheet.
Step 6: Second Rise.
Now we just do the second rise, which should take about 60 minutes.
Remember that you need to oven ready to go at 400 F, when the second rise is done.
And if you're worried that your house is too dry, a plastic sheet over the rising breads will help.
When the breads have risen, roll the dough off the towel onto a floured surface from which your bread can slide onto your baking surface.
I have a couple of pieces of 24' x 3/8" finished plywood, that I only use for breadwork.
Step 7: Baking.
When the second rise is done, your oven should be hot and ready to go.
I use quarry tiles for my baking surface. They are made of clay and do not have a glaze. So they are perfectly safe for baking purpose.
The alternate is to use a baking or pizza stone.
Quarry tiles come in 6" x 6" or 8" x 8" sizes, and cost about $0.50 for the small ones and about $1 for the big ones. And they are a lot cheaper than fancy baking stones
When you place your dough in the hot oven, you have to remember to add water to create steam I have found that about 1 1/2 cup of ice cubes works even better, since it avoids the risk of scalding yourself when you throw in that much water into a hot over.
Remember to throw in the ice cubes AFTER you have placed the dough in the oven
Bake for about 25 minutes. That will vary depending on your oven.
Step 8: Conclusion.
Well that's it.
In France, a baker has to wait 20 minutes after they have taken the bread out of the oven before they can sell it.
I have found that waiting an hour, will avoid the bread crumb sticking to your knife. But it is hard to wait that long.
On the first day after baking, just keep the open face covered.
The second to fourth day, the bread should go into a plastic bag.
If you still have bread after that, you should make smaller portions, or freeze some of your bread as soon as it's cooled.
Alternately, after the fourth day, you should be cutting your bread up to dry it for croutons or bread crumbs.
Thanks for reading. If there is a mechanism to contact me and you have questions, I'll will try to answer.