FRENCH BREAD

THE YEAST:
Sprinkle the yeast over the water, and stir it in along with the sugar; let stand for 5 minutes or more until the mixture has foamed up.

THE OTHER INGREDIENTS:
Measure the flours and salt into the bowl of the machine. Stir up the yeast to be sure it has thoroughly dissolved, blend in the cup of cold water and set the mixture by your side, along with the extra flour and water. Start the machine.

PRELIMINARY MACHINE KNEADING---ABOUT 60 SECONDS:
With the machine going, rather slowly but steadily pour in the yeast mixture. If the dough does not form into a ball in a few seconds dribble in a little more water, adding more dribbles ar several-second intervals until the dough balls on top of the blade and revolves 8 to 10 times.
(Don't worry if particles of dough do not join the mass and remain in the bottom of the container. If by chance you have added too much water and the dough refuses to ball or clogs in the machine, keep it running and pour in a tablespoon or so of flour until the revolving ball forms.)

REST PERIOD:
Stop the machine, remove the cover, and feel the dough. If it seems damp and wet, start the machine again, pour in a tablespoon or so of flour, and let the ball rotate several times under the cover. Now let the dough rest 4 to 5 minutes to allow the flour particles to absorb the liquids.

FINAL MACHINE KNEADING:
Turn on the machine and let the dough rotate 30 times, then remove it to a lightly floured work surface. It should be fairly smooth and quite firm.
(You do not want to overknead in the machine since that can overheat the dough and break down the gluten. If you have any doubts, stop the machine, remove the cover, and feel the dough. If it is warmer than room temperature, let it rest and cool off for 5 minutes before continuing.)

FINAL KNEADING BY HAND:
Let the dough rest 2 minutes, then knead roughly and vigorously---rapidly fold the dough over on itself, push it out with the heels of your hands, and repeat 50 times. The final dough should not stick to your hands as you knead (although it will stick if you pinch and hold a piece.) It should be smooth and elastic, and when you hold it up between your hands and stretch it down, it should hold together smoothly.

PRELIMINARY RISE -- 40 TO 60 MINUTES AT AROUND 75F:
Scoop the dough into the clean dry bowl (no oil), cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and set in a warm place free from drafts. (You can use a SLIGHTLY heated oven). This first rise is sufficient when the dough has definitely started to rise and is about 1 1/2 times its original volume.

DEFLATING:
Turn the dough onto your lightly floured work surface: roughly and firmly pat and push it out into a 14-inch rectangle. Fold one of the long sides over toward the middle, and the other long side over to cover it, making a 3-layer cushion. Repeat the operation. (This important step redistributes the yeast throughout the dough for the second rise). Return the dough smooth side up to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and again set to rise.

FINAL RISE IN THE BOWL -- 1 to 1 1/2 hours or longer.
This time let the dough rise 2 1/2 to 3 times its original bulk. (It is the amount of rise that is important here, not the timing.) The dough is now ready to form.

FORMING THE LOAF (Work rapidly!):

Equipment:

  1. Cut the dough in half.
  2. Fold each piece in half end to end.
  3. Pat one piece firmly into a 14" rectangle, squaring it up evenly.
  4. Cover other piece loosely with a towel.
  5. Keep work surface clean and floured.
  6. Fold rectangle in half lengthwise, its 2 edges toward you.
  7. With the heel of your hand, press and pound the dough firmly at where edges meet to seal them.
  8. Then pound the rest of the rectangle flat.
  9. Roll the dough forward so that the sealed seam is on top.
  10. Pat it firmly again into a rectangle, being sure it does not stick to work surface.
  11. With the side of your hand, press a trench down the central length of the dough, following the seam.
  12. Fold the dough again lengthwise, its joined edges toward you.
  13. Again press and pound the 2 edges together, pounding and flattening also the rest of the rectangle.
  14. Rotate the dough so the seam is underneath.
  15. Now rotate the dough rapidly back and forth under your palm, starting at the middle and sliding your hands to the ends, and off the ends to make them pointed.
  16. Repeat several times until loaf is the desired length.
  17. Rotate the loaf seam side up, straightening as necessary.
  18. Pinch the edges together just to be sure.
  19. Lift it seal side up onto a lightly floured towel, cover loosely with the second towel.
  20. Form the second loaf.

Make a pleat in the bottom towel to separate the 2 loaves, and lift the second loaf into place. Cover loosely with the second towel. Let rise to more than double -- 1 to 1 1/2 hours, again at around 75F. (slightly warmed oven)

BAKING:
Equipment:

Set oven rack in lower third level and cover with baking stone. Preheat oven to 450F at least 20 minutes ahead. Flip bread onto board seamless side up. Make three slashes in each loaf about 1/2 inch deep. Slide the loaves onto the baking stone. Toss the water into a pan into the bottom of the oven. Set timer for 20 minutes.

Check loaf after 20 minutes. It should be brown and crusty, but it will need another 10 minutes or so at 400F to cook through. Check the bottom of the loaves. If they are too brown, slip an oven rack under to raise them from the baking surface. If the tops are browning too much, cover them loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side up. Lower thermostat to 400F and continue.

Insert the thermometer through a central slash and wait a few seconds until the needle stops moving. The loaf is done at 200 degrees.

COOLING:
Remove the loaves to a rack, and cool.

STORING:
The bread keeps 2 to 5 days refrigerated in plastic bags. Crisp 5 minutes or so on a pastry sheet in a preheated 400F oven, turning oven off as soon as the bread is in.

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