Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Classic French Bread

This week, I wanted to take another shot at making a delicious French bread. The difference, however, was the recipe I used included the creation of a starter.

Well, what the heck is a starter?

The fermentation starter, also known as preferment, is used in the bread-making process to improve the quality and shelf-life of the bread and to add more character and aroma to the bread. The recipe I chose to use decided on a vague preferment time of overnight, but the typical time for the preferment process is 2 to 16 hours.

One of the problems I had, as you can see above, is the bread burst open on the side during baking, despite the diagonal slashes I carved into the top just prior to the start of baking. Perhaps I didn't dig my knife deep enough into the dough to allow the tops to split open instead of the sides?

Another issue I experienced was the salt content of the bread which was much too high. I'm not sure if the amount of salt I used was too much or if I just didn't integrate the ingredients properly while creating the dough, but this is definitely something I will be paying more attention to in the future.

Classic French Bread 
(yields 2 loaves)

For the starter:
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour
1 packet Red Star Active Dry Yeast
3/4 cups warm water

For the dough:
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour, more for rolling
1 Tbsp salt
1/3 cup room temperature water
olive oil, for coating
cornmeal, for sprinkling

Create the starter by mixing all of the starter ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place overnight. The mixture should rise and deflate overnight.

The next day, add the flour, salt, and water to the starter. Mix all of the ingredients together until incorporated, about 2-3 minutes using a stand mixer. Once mixed, knead by hand for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size,

Punch down the dough, recover the dough with a towel, and let rise for another hour or until double in size again. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and punch it down. Separate the dough into two equal sections or keep it whole to create a larger loaf. Flatten each piece of dough until it is 1/3" thick. Fold the top third of the dough down to the middle and fold the bottom third up, just like folding a letter. Roll the folded piece of dough into a foot-long log shape. Cover both pieces of dough with a lightly floured towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Let the dough rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes prior to baking. Create several diagonal slashes on the top of the dough with a serrated blade. Bake the dough for 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaves are brown and sound hollow when you tap them.


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