French Bread as Julia Child Makes It
and I Try To

Julia Child is a wunderkind in the kitchen, and she makes French bread turn out beautifully. Mine's not as pretty, but I soldier on. I think it tastes pretty good, though!

As Julia makes it, this bread takes 7-8 hours.

I have streamlined the directions below. I have a file about bread-making basics if you'd like more detail about individual steps.

As regulated by French law, French bread in France may have only four ingredients: yeast, flour, water, and salt. For this recipe:

Mix water and yeast in a large bowl and allow to become bubbly. Add flour and salt. Mix.

Knead. When dough begins to spring back as you knead and no longer sticks to the bread board, you know gluten molecules are "holding hands."

Put to rise until triple in size (70 degrees is the ideal temperature for rising French bread, quoth Julia). This first rise will take about three hours. (This is a good time to pick up your needle!) Punch down.

Let rise second time to triple or almost triple in bulk (at 70 degrees). Estimate about 2 hours.

Punch down. Form loaves. (I get better control with boules, which are round loaves, than baguettes, which are the very long loaves so "typically French".) This recipe makes 3 round loaves (boules), three long ones (baguettes).

Let loaves rise 'til almost triple (at 70 degrees). This is the third rise, and should require about 2 hours.

Score tops of loaves just before baking.

Bake 5 minutes in 400 degree oven, putting the raw bread right on the tiles and using a steam apparatus. Remove steam gizmo. After 10-15 minutes more at 400 degrees, reduce oven heat to 300 and bake bread 10 minutes more. Check for doneness. Best eaten within several hours of baking.

What tiles? Meanwhile, you have heated plain (unglazed) quarry tiles for one hour on a rack of your oven at 400 degrees. Lay the tiles right on the rack, touching. You need enough tiles to create an area large enough to accommodate your bread. Take an oven rack with you when you visit your local tile center. Wash tiles well before first use.

What steam apparatus? A pan of water in the oven on the lower rack. If you want more details about steam and other aspects of breadbaking, see my file on bread-making basics.

I refer you also to Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. II (Knopf). See chapter 2. Her advice about steam and eggwhites and quarry tiles differs slightly.

She also says not to eat the bread hot from the oven but to let it cool because the flavor develops better. Yeah, right, Julia! Someone is going to wait nine hours?!


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