Introduction: Classic French Bread
This recipe will produce a very classic loaf (batard) of French Bread weighing about 1lb. 4 oz. It is a perfect compliment to most any meal with a nicely caramelized, hard and slightly chewy crust and a light and flavorful crumb from using a preferment. The heavenly smell while this is baking will make you think you are in a French bakery in Paris!
Step 1: Gather Ingredients and Equipment
Bakers’ use the French term "mise en place" to describe gathering all the ingredients, equipment and tools together for your recipe prior to beginning. Take a moment to gather the following items in preparation for making your bread:
Ingredients: (All measurements of these ingredients are in the steps)
- All-Purpose or Bread Flour
- Salt (preferably fine Sea Salt or any non-iodized salt with a fine grind)
- Instant Yeast
- Container (2) for water
- Medium size mixing bowl with lid (or you can cover with clear wrap)
- A scale that can weigh to .01 grams
- A food thermometer that can measure between 80 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit
- A dough whisk (pictured) or a wooden or metal spoon for mixing ingredients
- A dough/bench scraper (pictured) or a simple rubber/silicone spatula/scraper
- A clean and smooth work surface for shaping the dough (I used a special board treated with mineral oil (pictured) but a clean and smooth countertop will work as well.)
Step 2: Mix Poolish
As mentioned previously, the poolish is a simple mix of 50% of the total flour as well as an equal amount of water (by weight) to the flour with just a slight bit of yeast added. In our case the poolish will consist of the following ingredients and amounts:
- Flour - 175g
- Water - 175g
- Salt - NONE
- Yeast - a small pinch
NOTE: We do not add salt into the poolish as it will inhibit the flavor and structural development of the flour in the preferment. Salt will be added in a later step.
1. Turn on the scale and place the mixing bowl on the scale. Tare the scale and measure 175g of flour into the bowl. (photo 1)
2. Tare the scale again with mixing bowl containing the 175g flour on the scale. (photo 2&3)
3. Gather about 2 cups of 80° F water in the other container. (photo 4)
4. Add 175g of the 80° F water to the flour. (photo 5&6)
5. Remove bowl from scale and add a pinch of yeast to flour and water mixture in the bowl. (photo 7)
6. Using the dough whisk or a wooden or metal spoon begin to mix the poolish ingredients completely. The goal here is to ensure that all the flour, water and yeast are mixed into a consistency much like pancake batter so the flour is fully hydrated and the yeast mixed in as well. (photo 8)
7. Be sure to scrape any ingredients that are on the inside of bowl down into the poolish and mix them in well. Use the dough scraper or spatula to do this if needed. When fully mixed your poolish should look like the ninth photo above.
8. Cover the bowl with with the lid or tightly seal with clear wrap and let this sit for 12-14 hours in room temp (65° fahrenheit) to ferment. If you room temperature is warmer than this you should decrease the fermentation time. Generally reduce the time by 1 hour for every 3 degrees above 65°.
9. At the end of the poolish fermentation it should roughly be 1.5 - 2 times larger than it started and show good activity with bubbles on the surface. (photo 11)
Step 3: Add Remaining Ingredients
When the poolish is ready it will have a slightly ripe and alcoholic smell. This is due to the small amount of yeast we added to the flour and water mix slowly working to develop the flavors of the wheat flour during the pre-fermentation phase.
Gather your remaining ingredients together to make the final mix:
- Poolish - 350g
- Flour - remaining 175g
- Water - 238g-175g = 63g - 110° F
- Salt - 7.7g
- Yeast - 1.25g MINUS pinch in poolish = 1.2g
1. Weigh out the 21g of salt and 1.2g of Instant Yeast.
2. Gather about 1 cup of 110° F water in one of the water containers. Place the second/empty water container on the scale and tare. Slowly pour and measure 63g of water into container.
3. Gently and slowly pour this water around the outside edge of the poolish in the mixing bowl to help release it from bowl. Add the 1.15g of Instant Yeast to the poolish. This will help hydrate it before we add the remaining ingredients.
4. Add the salt to the poolish and place the bowl on the scale and tare. Measure in the remaining flour (175g).
5. Using the dough scraper (or your hand) start mixing together the remaining ingredients. Once you have the dough mixed into a shaggy ball with some ingredients still not fully mixed in clean your scraper and/or fingers off by scraping whatever is stuck to them into the bowl.
6. To finish the initial mixing, dip your mixing hand into water (I use the remaining water gathered from faucet for this step to dip my hand into) and start squeezing the dough between your fingers and paying attention to any dry ingredients that are sticking to the bowl. Wet your hand repeatedly as you mix and knead to prevent the dough from sticking to it. Try not to add too much additional water to the dough as you mix it.
7. As it starts to become a smoother ball push your knuckles into the dough and then place your fingers underneath it to gently stretch it (DO NOT TEAR IT). This GENTLE kneading and folding motion is helping to develop the gluten structure and will help give the final loaf a nice structure and rise when baked.
8. After about 7-10 minutes if hand mixing and kneading this step should be completed and you should have a ball of dough with single structure. Place the lid back on the bowl and proceed to next step.
Step 4: Basic Fermenation and Rise
1. This next phase is about allowing the ingredients to fully combine, letting the yeast add some leavening and rise to the dough as well as folding the dough a few more times to add strength so we can properly shape and bake it into our finished loaf.
2. As we learned from Step 2, temperature and time are also important parts of any bread or baking recipe. This recipe’s timings are based on a dough temperature of 74° F. If the dough and ambient temperature of the room are warmer than 74° the time to complete this step and the final proof will be decreased. Conversely, if the dough and ambient temperature of the room are cooler than 74° the time to complete this step and the final proof will be decreased. Experienced bakers use these factors to their advantage in timing products availability for the oven as well as slowing the fermentation process to increase depth of flavor.
3. This recipe calls for a Basic Fermentation time between 1 ½ - 2 hours. 2 hours at 74 degrees has always yielded good results with this recipe. Adjust your time or temperature accordingly.
(NOTE: This recipe is pretty forgiving so unless dough and ambient temperature really hot (above 80°) or really cool (below 65°), 1 ½ - 2 hours will work most every time.)
4. During the first hour of fermentation we will do 3 folds about 15 minutes apart. These are done to add additional strength and further develop glute structure of the dough. To do these folds wet your fingers on your folding hand and gently slip your hand underneath the dough and lift/stretch it upward until it is fully stretched but DO NOT TEAR the dough as it will have the opposite effect and hurt the gluten structure. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and do this again. Repeat the turn and fold 1 more time and then cover again. (See photos above)
Step 5: Shape Loaf and Final Proof
1. Before you remove the dough from the bowl for shaping be sure to liberally dust your work surface with flour. (This will help prevent the dough from sticking to the surface.)
2. Flour your hands and remove the dough from the dough and quickly place the dough on the floured surface then flip it to get some flour on other side as well.
3. Shape the dough into a rectangle shape and very gently pat (also known as “punching down”) but handle gently as we want to retain as much gas as possible in the dough as we shape it to help it rise and develop a nice crumb. Shape into rectangle the about 8-9 inches wide and 6 inches tall. Keep your hands and the work surface floured to prevent the dough from sticking or tearing during the shaping. Repeat this as necessary during the process to prevent sticking but try and use as little flour as is required.
4. Gently stretch the dough toward the top (away from you) with one hand and fold like a letter into a third. Using your fingers press the dough at the seam to seal it.
5. Take the right corner and fold it over about halfway and seal with fingers. Repeat left corner as well.
6. You will then have a trapezoid shape.
7. Fold the top of the trapezoid over until it meets the bottom of the shape and use your fingers to create a tight seal and seam.
8. Keeping your hands and the dough properly floured, place your hands near the middle and tuck your thumbs under the dough and start gently rolling into a batard (aka “torpedo loaf”). See this demo video from King Arthur Flour for additional information on shaping.
9. Place the shaped loaf seam side up in a FLOURED proof basket or using a clean and lint-free FLOURED kitchen towel you can wrap the batard for final proof
10. Wrap the basket or shaped towel in clear wrap and let proof for 1 to 1.5 hours. Once again time and temperature are important as you do not want the loaf to “overproof”.
Step 6: Bake the Loaf
1. Preheat the oven to 480° and if you have a baking/pizza stone place it in the oven as well. You want to make sure to give the oven enough time to heat up the stone fully as well. This is usually an additional 20-30 minutes.
2. When the loaf is ready to bake it will have roughly doubled in size and when you press your finger into it about ½ inch it will slowly regain its shape and the indentation will disappear after 10-20 seconds.
3. If using a baking/pizza stone you can bake directly on the stone. Use a pizza peel or a cookie sheet (upside down) and either place parchment on it or use generous amount of semolina flour so the loaf does not stick to the peel or pan when slid off and onto stone.
(The water bottle is used to create steam in the oven during the bake.)
4. Turn the basket upside down and let the loaf gently fall out of the basket onto the peel/cookie sheet.
5. Using a very sharp knife cut 3 - 4 slashes in the loaf. Keep the blade at a 45 degree angle to the loaf as you make the cuts. They should overlap as shown in picture below.
7. Gently slide the loaf off the peel/cookie sheet and onto the stone. If you are NOT using a stone use an upside down cookie sheet and let the loaf bake directly on that.
8. Immediately spray the sides of the oven with 4-5 squirts of water and quickly close the door to trap the steam inside. Repeat this 4-5 times about once a minute. After the last spray, turn the oven heat down to 460° and do not open the door for at least 5 more minutes. The total bake time for the loaf is 26-30 minutes.
NOTE: You may want to turn/pivot your loaf 180° horizontally at the 12 minute mark to make sure it bakes and browns evenly.
9. When finished baking remove the loaf and place on a cooling rack to allow the crust to cure fully on top and bottom. The loaf should have a nice caramel brown and hard crust and a light crumb with small air pockets/bubbles throughout.
10. Let cool for at least 30 minutes so the loaf can cut properly. Do not place in plastic bag or freezer until completely room temperature as this will cause the crust to get soft.