Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rustic French Bread

Bread nombre trois in this Thanksgiving week of breads is what I call “rustic” French bread, for it is neither a thin baguette or a round boule, but is made with a similar dough recipe.  It’s ‘rustic’ because it is similar to some of the loaves you might see in small bakeries that dot the countryside of France.  (a shape the French might call a ‘batard,’ for it is perhaps a bastardized baguette)   This shape is also rustic to me because it’s the shape of loaf that my mom used to bake when she made “French Bread,” from the recipe in her little 1950s paperback French cookbook. 

The cookbook was folded over so that it was permanently turned to the French bread page, and thus that page was yellowed, dog-eared and foxed more so than the rest of the book.  (Mom didn’t do a whole lot of ‘other’ French cooking)

I like this loaf because it is a nice middle of the road size between small baguettes (which I love, but are difficult to make properly.  More on them in a later blog post) and full-sized sandwich bread. 

The key to making a good French loaf is to make what is known as a poolish, or starter, the night before.  This little bit of dough will undergo a long, slow fermentation all night long, developing some amazing, tangy, complex flavors that will show up in your final bread loaf.  Don’t skip this step. 

Rustic French Bread

for poolish:

5 1/4 Oz (1 1/4 Cup) Unbleached All Purpose Flour
5 1/4 Oz (2/3 Cup) 60˚F Water
1/8 Teaspoon Instant Yeast

The night before, mix dry ingredients together and then add the water and stir just to combine.  Cover and let sit overnight.  In the morning you will have something that looks like this and smells wonderfully ‘bready.’  

Note the bubbles in the poolish from the long fermentation. 

for main dough

10 1/2 Oz (2 1/2 Cups) Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Instant Yeast
2 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
5 1/4 Oz (2/3 Cup)  60˚F Water
All of the Poolish

Place the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of your mixer and stir to combine.  

Add the water to the poolish and use a fork to break the poolish dough free from its bowl.  Add it with the water to the mixing bowl of dry ingredients and run your mixer with a dough hook until the ingredients are just combined.  Let rest 20 minutes. 

After the rest, knead the dough by hand or with your mixer until it just becomes elastic and a bit cohesive.  Transfer to a lightly-oiled bowl and let rise for two hours, punching down and folding after one hour. 

After the two hour rise, move the dough to a lightly-floured surface 

and work it into a loaf shape.  

Then move it to a couche as I’ve done here and let the loaf rise for an hour or so.  

If you don’t have a couche, use a perforated ‘Italian Loaf’ pan or similar. 

Preheat oven to 500˚F with a baking stone inside. 

Using a bread lame or sharp knife, cut diagonal slits in the top of the loaf.

Transfer the loaf with a peel from your couche to the baking stone.  

Turn the oven down to 475˚F and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and crusty.  (for a crunchier crust, add a tablespoon or two of water to the bottom of your oven when you put the loaf in.  The steam created will help to crust up the bread!)  

Take loaf out of the oven and let cool a bit before slicing. 

When cool, cut off a slice and admire the crumb.  

Not a bad effort, but a master baker can usually get a lighter, airier crumb with larger cells or holes in it.  I'm just not there yet, and can't seem to do it on a consistent basis.  Here's a photo of another loaf I made with a slacker dough, and it is a bit closer to what I'm looking for:

But, I'd actually like to see even more, larger cells like what you might find when you cut into a loaf from France or an excellent artisan bakery.   Oh well, at least mine still tastes great!   Let's slice it up...

and serve it up with plenty of real butter!

It also makes an excellent base for cheesy garlic bread.

Just sprinkle the buttered bread with mozzarella and garlic salt and zip it under the broiler for a few minutes.  Mouthwatering!

Until next time,

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving will be a hearty one!



  1. Great recipe. Tried it and the wife and kids loved it. Making another batch for tomorrow. Thanks. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Thanks Jason. Glad it worked out for you!