Country French Bread
Editor's Note: This five-ingredient Country French Bread is a deliciously rustic and versatile homemade bread recipe that's suitable for many occasions. You've likely seen crusty, chewy bread like this gracing the tables of upscale restaurants, but you can easily make it at home and serve it with any meal - breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It takes less than four hours to bake, making this a great bread recipe to serve up on the weekend!
Country French Bread is classic all-purpose bread-great for sandwiches, delicious for morning toast, and a wonderful loaf to set at the center of the table. This is the style of bread that appeared on the table throughout my childhood, and it has never lost its appeal. It is frequently used to make croutons and breadcrumbs and also as a thickener for soups, sauces, and dressings. It has a crisp, crackling crust with a firm crumb that doesn’t fall apart when buttered or covered with a sandwich filling. For the home baker, it is best baked on a stone under a stainless-steel bowl, as are most of my recipes. Although I recommend mixing and kneading by hand, Country French Bread can also be made in a heavy-duty electric stand mixer.
Total Timeunder 4 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
Recipe CourseAppetizer, Snack
Dietary ConsiderationEgg-free, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Five Ingredients or LessYes
MealBreakfast, Brunch, Dinner, Lunch, Snack
Type of DishBread
- 3½ cups unbleached. unbromated white bread flour
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1½ teaspoons instant dry yeast
- 1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons water
- Cornmeal for dusting
Scale all of the ingredients.
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and yeast, making sure that they do not touch each other.
2 MIXING AND KNEADING
Using your hands, bring the dry ingredients together. Once blended, quickly form a well in the center of the mix.
Take the temperature of the water (it should be 82°F to 84°F for hand mixing, or 65°F to 70°F for an electric mixer) and record it in your Dough Log. Immediately begin adding the water to the well in a slow, steady stream, rotating the bowl with one hand while simultaneously mixing the water into the dry ingredients with your other hand. Stop often as you work to scrape the bowl and your fingers with your bowl scraper, making sure that all of the ingredients have been gathered into the dough mass. The bowl should be quite clean. The dough will be soft, slightly wet, and extremely sticky.
Pinch off a bit of dough and taste to see whether you have forgotten the salt. If so, add it now and mix for another minute or so to fully incorporate it into the dough. The dough should just be beginning to come together.
When the dough begins to come together, use your bowl scraper to scrape the dough out onto your work surface, taking care not to leave any dough behind. The dough will still be very, very sticky. Do not give in to your temptation to add more flour, since that will alter the flour ratio of the dough. Stick with it; you can do it. The end result will prove it.
Hold your hands, palms facing up, at opposite sides of the dough mass that are closest to your body. Slide your fingers, still facing up, under the dough and lift the dough an inch or so from the work surface. Squeeze your thumbs and index fingers together to form a tight “OK” sign through the dough. While holding the “OK” sign, continue to curl your thumbs and index fingers tightly together to pinch off a portion of dough. Working as quickly and smoothly as you can, continue lifting and pinching the dough mass using the same technique, moving up the dough mass in approximately 1-inch to ½-inch increments, approximately 5 to 7 times, until you have gone through the entire mass. You should begin to feel the dough coming together. Remember, your hands are your memory-really get the feel of the dough as it comes together.
Turn the dough a quarter turn and continue lifting, pinching, and turning the dough until it begins to take on an identifiable shape and is less and less sticky. Don’t give up; keep working the dough without adding additional flour, and it will begin to take shape. This can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Remember, do not add any flour to speed the process. Use your scraper to keep incorporating all of the dough into the mass. The dough is sufficiently kneaded when it can be formed into a ball. You do not want a stiff, dry dough; you want a soft, pliable mass that still holds its shape.
To form the dough into a ball, using both hands, lift it up from the front and fold it over and onto itself in one swift motion, quickly dropping it down on the work surface. Repeat this process 4 to 5 times until a ball forms. At all times, use the scraper to ensure that you are gathering all of the dough.
Touch the dough with the back of your hand to make sure that it is no longer sticky. If it is sticky, use the OK-sign pinching method to knead up and down the dough once or twice more, quickly folding the dough over itself 4 to 5 times. Touch the top of the dough again to ensure that it is no longer sticky. If it is, repeat the folding process until it is no longer sticky.
3 FIRST FERMENTATION
At this point, you should take the dough temperature and record it, along with the time, in your Dough Log. It should be between 72°F and 80°F. If it is not, make the necessary adjustments. It is particularly important that you record the time you finish this step as you will need to note the time required for the first (bulk) fermentation, in this case about 1 hour.
Lightly dust a large bowl (preferably glass to allow observation of the process) with flour. The bowl should be large enough to allow the dough to rise without coming in contact with the plastic wrap that will cover it. Transfer the dough ball to the bowl, smooth side up, taking care to retain the round shape of the dough. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap.
Place the bowl in a warm (75°F to 80°F), draft-free place until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Since you are making just 1 loaf, skip to Step 5!
If the dough is very sticky, lightly flour your hands, but do not add more flour to the dough. If the dough adheres to the table, use your bench scraper to lift it up; do not pull and stretch the dough. You can, at this point, give a light dusting of flour to the work surface. With the palm of your hand, lightly press the dough into a rectangle. Then, using your hands, gently pick up the dough to make sure it is not sticking to the work surface.
Carefully form the dough into a boule.
6 FINAL FERMENTATION
Place the shaped dough in its final fermentation spot-a banneton, a couche, or a rimless baking sheet, carefully following the directions for the appropriate preparation of whatever vessel you are using. Lightly flour the top of the dough to ensure that the plastic wrap does not stick to it.
Transfer to a warm (75°F to 80°F), draft-free place. Record the time in your Dough Log, as well as the exact time required for the final fermentation in your Dough Log, and set your timer. It should take about 1 hour for the final proofing; however, you should keep a close eye on the dough, because if it is overproofed it will be unusable.
If you are using the stainless-steel bowl method for baking, about 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, move one oven rack to the lowest rung and remove the other. Place a large baking stone on the rack, and preheat the oven to 450°F.
To determine whether the dough is ready to be baked, uncover it and gently make a small indentation in the center of the dough with your fingertip. If the indentation slowly and evenly disappears, the bread is ready to bake.
Place the dough, seam side down, on a cornmeal-dusted bread peel or the back of a sheet pan lightly coated with cornmeal. For a rustic look, lightly dust the top of the loaf with flour.
Working quickly with a lamé or single-edged razor blade, score the top of the loaf in a traditional manner or use your own signature score. Cut in quick decisive slashes, marking into the dough by no more than 1/8 inch.
Carefully slide the loaf, top side up, onto the center of the stone, taking care to not touch the hot surface.
2013 Lionel Vatinet