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Julia Child’s French Bread

May 4, 2011

Julia Child's French Bread

Julia Child's French Bread

“Bread making is for those who love to cook and to work with their hands.  There is a deep satisfaction to be gained from the feel and smell of the dough as it is kneaded and formed, from that wonderful warm aroma of its baking, and finally from the pride of authorship. The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many different kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn.”  Julia Child

I couldn’t agree more.  It is altogether consuming.  I was trying to think of how I feel when I make bread and then I read what Julia said and it was exactly what I felt.  This French bread is to die for.  It is delicious, with its crusty outside and chewy texture you will think that you were in France.

The best part about this bread is that there are only four ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt.  Pretty amazing that those four components can make such a robust loaf.  French bread is time consuming but quite easy to master.  Traditionally, you would not bake French bread on a baking sheet or in a bread pan.  You would bake it in a baker’s oven, you could simulate this in your home by converting you oven using ceramic quarry tiles 1/2 inch thick or with a baking pizza stone.  The reason is that you will in turn get a big puffy loaf.  I baked mine on a cookie sheet and received the results I was hoping for, not everyone has access to ceramic tiles.  If you do use a baking sheet, I suggest allowing it to rise directly on the baking sheet surface be sure to lightly flour it, that way you will not need to move it again.

Ingredients and Directions for Julia Child's French Bread

Ingredients and Directions for Julia Child's French Bread

1.  Ingredients

2 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast

1/3 cup tepid water (in a 2-cup measuring cup)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

3 1/2 cups flour (bread flour is preferable but all-purpose works)

1 tablespoon whole wheat flour

2 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 cup cold water, plus 1/3 cup or so additional water

To prepare the bread

2.  Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir it in along with the sugar; let stand for 5 minutes or more until the mixture is foamy.

3.  In the bowl of your electric mixture combine the flours and salt.  Stir up the yeast to be sure it has thoroughly dissolved, blend in the cup of cold water ans set the mixture aside.  Have extra water and flour handy to achieve the proper consistency for your dough.  Using the hook attachment turn the mixer on to stir and then slowly and 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, until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowlIf you have added too much water add a little flour.

Stop the mixer and rest the dough for 5 minutes. 

4.  After the rest period, turn the mixer on and continue to knead the dough for about 2 minutes.  Remove the dough from the mixer onto a lightly floured surface.  The dough should be fairly smooth and quite firm.  Do not over knead the dough.  Allow the dough to rest for another 2 minutes, knead roughly and vigorously – rapidly fold the dough over on itself, push it out with the heels of your hands, repeat 50 times.  The final dough should not stick to your hands as you knead, it should be smooth and elastic and when you hold it up between your hands and stretch it down, it should hold together smoothly.  Place the dough in a clean dry bowl, cover with a clean towel.

Allow the dough to rise for 40-60 minutes at 75 F free from drafts and 1 1/2 times its original volume.  The bowl is not oiled as the French theory is that the dough needs a seat to push up from.

5.  Turn the dough onto your lightly floured surface; roughly and firmly pat and push it out into a 14-inch rectangle.

6.  Fold one of the long sides over toward the middle, and the other long side over to cover it, making a 3-layer cushion.

7.  Repeat the same folds again.  These folds are important as they redistribute the yeast throughout the dough, for a strong second rise.  Return the dough smooth side up to the bowl; cover and allow to rise again, this time for 1-1 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.

To Form the Dough into Long Loaves

8.  To make 2 loaves cut the dough in half, and fold each piece in half end to end.

9.  Pat 1 piece firmly into a 14-inch rectangle, squaring it up as evenly as you can.  Cover the other piece loosely with a towel.

10.  Keeping your work surface always clean and very lightly floured, fold the rectangle of dough in half lengthwise, its 2 edges towards you.  With the heel of your hand, press and pound the dough firmly where the 2 edges meet, to seal them.  Then pound the rest of the rectangle flat – a firm hand with reactivate the yeast to your loaf more volume.   Roll the dough forward so that the sealed seam is on top.  Pat it firmly again into a rectangle, being sure it is not sticking to your work surface – you do not want to tear the gluten cloak that is forming.

11.  With the side of your hand, press a trench down the central length of the dough following the seam.  Fold the dough again lengthwise, its joined edges toward you.  Again press and pound the 2 edges together, pounding and flattening also the rest of the rectangle.  Rotate the dough so the seal is underneath. 

Now rotate the dough rapidly back and forth under your palms, starting at the middle and sliding your hands to the ends and off the ends to make them pointed.  Repeat several times, extending the loaf as evenly as possible to the length you wish but not so long it won’t fit your baking surface.

Rotate the loaf seam side up, straightening it as necessary.  You may want to pinch the edges together just to ensure the seal.  Lift it seal side up onto a lightly floured towel, cover loosely with a second towel, and form the second loaf.

Note:  If you are baking on a baking sheet it is much easier to allow the loaves to rise directly on the baking sheet rather than a towel, this will eliminate having to move the loaf after the final rise.

12.  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 at 75 F

Preheat your oven to 450 F 20 minutes prior to baking.  Set your oven rack to the lower third level.

If you allowed the loaves to rise on a towel, using a 3/8 inch plywood board, slide the board slightly under the loaf and then using the towel unmold the dough and slide the loaf on to the boards. From the boards slide onto a baking sheet, try to work quickly handling the loaves as little as possible.

Slash the tops of the loaves three times on an angle using a razor blade.  The slashes should be about 1/2 inch deep.  These open up the gluten cloak and allow the dough to swell in the oven.

Once the oven is hot open the door and place the loaves into the oven.  Toss 1/2 cup cold water into the bottom of the oven.  Close the door and set a timer for 20 minutes.

Check the bread after 20 minutes.  It will have swelled in minutes or so and the slashes will open.  In 20 minutes the bread should be brown and crusty, but it will need another 10 minutes or so at 400 F to cook through.  At this point check the bottoms of the loaves – if they are too brown, slip a wire rack under them to raise them from the hot baking surface.  If the tops are browning too much, cover loosely with a sheet of foil.  Lower the temperature to 400 F.

The loaves are done when a thermometer reads 200 F.  Insert the thermometer into the center slash to get an accurate read.

Cool the loaves on a wire rack, in a few seconds a sharp ear will hear them crackle – the bread’s own music.  Although bread warm from the oven is irresistible, its texture is best when it has cooled.

Adapted from Julia Child The Way to Cook

Julia Child's French Bread

Julia Child's French Bread

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy French bread is to make.  It is time consuming, though.  I think this may be my new favorite bread to make.  The next time I make it I am going to try round loaves and rolls.

From our kitchen to yours,
Sydney Jones

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 4, 2011 8:44 am

    Bread looks great! I never buy French bread anymore, too easy and tasty to make at home. Love your blog!

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