Here’s a nice sourdough version of French Bread. I suppose the real purist knows that so-called French Bread is actually fairly new – and didn’t originally come from France. The origin was in Vienna in the 1800’s. However – the French adopted it like crazy and raised it to a high art. Real French Bread is usually a pate fermente sort of thing, but I like it with the sourdough base. Not really clangy sourdough, but gently sourdough. And – for those who care – the sourdough is the original version of this wonderful bread.
The night before make up your sourdough:
50 g sourdough starter
175 g all-purpose flour
175 g water
You know drill – mix up the sourdough, flour, and water to mostly smooth paste, cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight at around 70°F to 75°F.
235 g fed sourdough – yeah, you may have a bit left over. Do whatever you usually do with excess starter.
1 pkg yeast – NOT Rapid Rise. Optional. If you have plenty of time you can let the sourdough do all the rising. It just takes a lot longer.
225 g water
420 g flour – either bread flour (better rise) or all-purpose (more like real French Bread)
11 g salt
Mix all ingredients on low for 3 minutes, second speed for 3 minutes. If by hand knead firmly for a good 10 minutes.
Bulk ferment 1 hour. Fold gently.
Ferment 1 hour.
For baguettes: Divide in 3 equal parts. Let rest a few minutes (10-15). Fold, press to seal the edges, then roll into logs about 15″ long on a well-floured work surface. Put the logs in the folds of a floured couche.
Other shapes: shape as you please.
Cover with greased plastic and let rise 1 hour or until just about doubled and puffy.
Baguettes: slash deeply with a lame 3 times 45° about 8″ long. Other shapes: slash with a lame as seems good to you. Don’t be shy, slash deep.
Baguettes: 25 minutes in a well-steamed 450°F oven.
Other shapes may take different cooking times. You are looking for an even, golden color.
Cool on a rack.
Couche – plain rough flax canvas cloth used to hold baguettes while they rise. The dough won’t stick to it and the fibers can help draw off any excess moisture so that the crust is thick and wonderfully chewy. If you don’t have one you can fake it with any rough, hard cloth that has no weird chemicals or dyes in it. You can order them off the web, the King Arthur web site has a nice one, but not cheap. I’ve seen some other sites with them as well, but the KA people are totally trustworthy and you can’t go wrong.
Discussion on flour. True French flour is somewhat different than most American flours in protein and ash content. I usually use the King Arthur unbleached bread flour. Works very nicely. You can get a true French flour from the King Arthur website.
However, be it noted that no less an authority than the great Raymond Calvel, dean of all French bakers, chose the King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour that you get at any decent grocery as the American flour most near good French flour in characteristics and overall taste. Hard to argue with the greatest authority in the world. Unfortunately Professor Calvel died in 2005, a great loss to the world.