I love French bread for its versatility. Bread and cheese, sandwiches, garlic bread, French bread pizza, so many uses. And so many of them great for summer, when picnics and gatherings are in full swing. I had a lot of fun testing this recipe out, as bread has always been my first love when it comes to baking. As with most breads, there are a lot of variations and “correct” ways to make French bread. Here is my interpretation. Hope you enjoy, with cheese and wine of course!
Since time equals flavor and strength when it comes to bread dough, I decided to go with a sponge method. Sponges also produces a fluffier crumb, which I prefer in my lean bread doughs (dough with little or no fat). The sponge method is a two part method for making bread dough. First, part of the water and flour get mixed together with the yeast, and in this recipe, some barley malt syrup. That sits together and ferments for several hours into a delightful yeasty smelling bubbly mass. In the second stage, the rest of the ingredients are added to the sponge and then the dough is kneaded together and the recipe proceeds to first rise.
I used the dough hook for this recipe, mostly because I haven’t used it that much. I thought it did a great job in getting the gluten development that I was looking for in this lean bread dough. However, I did use the roller to mix up the sponge, because it was so sticky I knew the roller would do a better job quickly mixing it together.
Once the rest of the flour was incorporated into the sponge, kneading took 12-15 minutes. While there is definitely a science and formula to baking, there is also intuition and familiarizing oneself with how dough texture should look and feel. Gluten percentage in flour, altitude, humidity, temperature of ingredients and kitchen, all these factors affect dough. For this dough, you are looking for it to go from a sticky dough into a smoother, slightly tacky dough.
Place the cover on and let it rise till doubled in size. If my kitchen is cold, I usually turn on the BACK burners of my cooktop for a minute, then turn them off and set the dough to rise on the FRONT burners, rotating the bowl after a bit to distribute heat evenly. But on a warm summer day, this is rarely the case. This dough took about an hour to rise.
For loaves like French bread or baguettes, a special type of pan is ideal for the second rise and bake. I tested out DoughEZ’s Perforated Silicone Baguette Bread Pan. Very affordable, easy to use, dishwasher safe. And lightweight and small for easy storage. This type of pan helps the bread hold its shape during the final rise. The perforated bottom ensured that the bottom baked evenly but also stayed soft while the top got that nice crusty chewy exterior.
Have you ever shaped loaves or rolls, covered them and then had the tops stick to the wax paper or whatever you covered them with? Then they deflate as you try to pull it off and bake into sad little loaves. Or had them start to deflate when you tried to score the top of the bread after rising? Well, I got around this by first slashing the loaves as soon as shaped and THEN let rise in a steamy oven/faux proofbox. No covering necessary. I do this by turning oven on lowest temp as soon as bread has gone through first rise. And as soon as it preheats, turn off so it can cool down a bit as you shape loaves. Bring several cups of water to a boil and place a baking pan in the bottom of the oven and pour boiling water in. When I am placing the baking pan and boiling water in, I fully open the oven because you want some of that heat to escape so it doesn’t start to cook the dough. If you have an oven thermometer, you could also just preheat until oven reaches around 100º F. Then, when I put the dough in, I keep the door open about 4-5 inches for about 30 seconds, then close. I only let the bread rise 10-15 minutes in there. Don’t let it fully rise in there, take it out and it will continue to rise while oven preheats to bake temperature.
Since the bottoms of this bread stay fairly light in color, using a thermometer to test doneness is ideal. You want to pull the bread out when it reaches around 195º F. Stick thermometer into the middle of the loaf.
Hot bread is very tempting to slice or tear into, but it is best to let it cool so the inside doesn’t get smashed while trying to cut when still too warm. This bread stayed surprisingly soft for more than 5 days. The crust will lose its crispiness, but the interior stays soft and fluffy, which I appreciated because I hate when bread stales and hardens into a brick after a day. Just wrap well and store at room temperature.
For tips on how to use the bread hook watch this video. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments, or favorite tips for making bread. Happy Baking!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time: 5 hours (including sponge time)
250 g. bread flour (2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp.)
250 g. water, room temperature (1 cup plus 2 tsp.)
12 g. (1 Tbsp.) instant dry yeast
15 g. (2 tsp.) barley malt syrup
500 g. bread flour (4 1/6 cups)
250 g. water, room temperature (1 cup plus 2 tsp.)
12 g. (2 1/2 tsp.) kosher salt
In the stainless steel bowl with the roller/scraper attachments, place all the sponge ingredients. Mix on medium low speed (2 o’clock) until thoroughly mixed together. Pull the arm towards the center, if necessary, to help incorporate the malt syrup. Remove the roller and scraper and use the spatula to scrape off any dough back into bowl. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 3 hours.
Place scraper and dough hook onto mixer. Turn mixer on lowest speed (12 o’clock) and add about a 1/3 of remaining bread flour. Add rest of water, rest of flour and salt. Adjust speed to medium (between 2 and 3 o’clock) and mix until all flour is incorporated, pushing the arm forward if necessary to help mixing.
Once flour is fully mixed in, set timer for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes check dough. If still very sticky, knead another 1-2 minutes.
Shape dough into a ball. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.
Once dough has risen, punch down and weigh and divide into 3 equal portions. Cover portions not being worked with. On a lightly floured surface, pat dough out into a rectangle. Fold up into a cylinder lengthwise and then use hands to roll out as long as the bread pan and to smooth into an even shape, slightly tapering towards the ends. Place loaf onto a baguette pan. If using silicone pan, make sure it is on a half sheet pan. Repeat with remaining dough portions.
Slash the tops of the loaves 4-5 times with a sharp knife or lame. Cover and let rise until almost doubled in size, approximately 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Once loaves have risen, spray tops with water. Place in oven and generously spray interior of oven with water before closing.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until top is crusty and golden.
Let cool on pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Will keep well wrapped at room temperature for 5 days.
Yield: 3 loaves
Whole Wheat Version
-Replace bread flour in sponge with 235.5 g. (2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp.) whole wheat flour. If milling at home, use hard red or white wheat.
-Replace bread flour in dough with 471 g. (4 1/6 cups) whole wheat flour.
-Follow instructions above.