Baking Bread Part 2: French Bread

Bread is one of those things that I remember my mom making at young age. I think dough is so cool; it’s alive and always changing. Most people talk about how baking is an exact science but we disagree, dough is really forgiving. As long as you know the steps, you can make adjustments if need be. In fact, we have found that our bread is different based on the humidity, heat, etc. so you need to be ready to make a few changes. Eventually, you will start to know the feel of different kinds of dough. This one is a great all purpose bread that we make a lot. It is great with soups, salads, and especially for sopping up great sauces like: Chicken Piccata or Chicken Cacciatore Stew! You might notice that these photos are different from the last time we featured this bread, like I said, it is ALWAYS different. Just play with it and have fun! Yesterday we shared with you the Pâte Fermentée. That is where this recipe begins. It seems like a lot of steps, but there is a lot of down time and I promise it is worth it! I have to stress again, that if you are serious about baking bread, please please please, pick up Peter Reinhart’s books. We have several and all are excellent. Enjoy!!


French Bread

Courtesy of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Makes 3 baguettes

3 cups (16 ounces) pâte fermentée

1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour

1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (6-7 ounces) water, at room temperature

Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Remove the pâte fermentée from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

Stir together the flours, salt, yeast and pâte fermentée pieces
in the bowl of the electric mixer. Add ¾ cup of the water, with the paddle attachment until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball, about 1 minute. Adjust the flour or water according to need so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (He says it’s better to err on the sticky side since it is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter to knead by hand for about 10 minutes or knead in a mixer with the dough hook for about 6 minutes or till the dough is soft and pliable, but not sticky and all the pâte fermentée is evenly distributed. The internal temp should be 77-81 degrees F.

Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours or until it doubles in size its original size. If it doubles before 2 hours have elapsed, knead it lightly to degas and let it rise again, covered until it doubles from the original size.

Gently remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured counter.

For baguettes, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Again, take care to degas the dough as little as possible. Form the pieces into baguettes. (Check this video out for the technique.)

Proof at room temperature for 45-75 minutes, or until the loaves have grown to about 1 ½ times their original size.

They should be slightly springy when poked with a finger.

Prepare the oven for hearth baking as in this video. You will need a baking stone (unless using the pan), a steaming pan preheated with the oven, and a spray bottle.

Generously dust a peel, the back of a sheet pan, or a baguette pan (as shown) with semolina flour or cornmeal (or baking parchment as we do) and gently transfer the baguettes to the pan or peel. Score the baguettes using a serrated knife.

Transfer the baguettes to the baking stone or bake directly on the pan. Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the oven door.

After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals.

After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450°F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees, if necessary, for even baking.

Continue baking until the loaves are golden brown and register at least 205°F in their center, anywhere from 10-20 additional minutes, depending on your oven and how thin your baguettes are.

If they seem to be getting too dark but are not hot enough internally, lower the oven setting to 350°F (or turn it off) and continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.



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