I know I am not the only one to discover the joy of baking during this quarantine, but just in case you haven’t given in and caused a run on yeast at your local grocery store, let me tell you: there is nothing as satisfy as just taking a day to bake some amazing french bread. Everything about the process – the reveal of seeing how much the dough has risen, the feeling of shaping it in your hands, and yes, the amazing smell that permeates your kitchen when it comes out of the oven – is so perfect that it lets you forget your worries and just enjoy making something delicious with your own hands. Not to mention that the final product is head and shoulders above anything you can get from a grocery store and perfect with everything from olive oil and vinegar to butter and homemade jam (but more on that on Thursday).
The key to the classic flavor of this loaf is the prefermented starter. Unlike a sourdough starter, this doesn’t need to be fed and maintained over days and days, but it does require a little bit of time to develop its deep flavors. I let mine go for 4 hours, but in a perfect world you could let it sit for up to 16 (or overnight). At the very least, I would recommend letting it develop for 2 hours, though more time will lead to a tangier and airier dough.
For the dough:
1 cup Lukewarm water
1/2 tsp Instant yeast
1 Tbsp Sugar
3.5 – 4 cups Bread flour
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
- Combine all starter ingredients in bowl and whisk to combine. It will look very wet and goopy. Cover with plastic and let rest on counter for at least 2 hours, and up to 16.
- Once starter is rested, combine it with water, yeast, sugar, salt, and 3 1/4 cups bread flour. Mix until just coming together. Let rest for 15 minutes. By doing this, we are letting the dough hydrate before kneading, which will improve texture in the final product.
- Using a stand mixer and dough hook, knead on low to medium speed for 10-15 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until a soft dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the mixer.
- Form dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled.
- Carefully remove dough from bowl and shape into a ball. While it is okay for the dough to deflate a little here, being gentler will cause less air to escape, which will lead to more of the signature air bubbles in the final loaf.
- Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. cover and let rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 475 F. Place a shallow dish or ramekin filled halfway with water on bottom rack of oven. This will create steam in oven and lead to a better crust.
- Use a sharp knife to place a couple of shallow slashes in the top of the dough. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Place in center of oven and reduce heat to 425 F.
- After 15 minutes, remove water dish from oven and rotate bread.
- Bake for 10-15 more minutes, or until center of bread reads 190 F on instant read thermometer. Crust should be golden brown and hard to the touch.
- Remove from oven and let rest on wire rack for 1 hour until room temperature (or be impatient like me and cut in after 10 minutes and burn your fingers)