Basic French Bread Recipe Using Contemporary Techniques Inspired By Thomas Keller

Basic French Bread Recipe Using Contemporary Techniques Inspired By Thomas Keller

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Attempting to make French bread with a mixer can be frustrating. A mixer will only knead my current recipe sometimes (on a humid day). This can be fixed by observing the work of Thomas Keller and Jacques Pépin. Jacques reminds people that firm dough should be kneaded by hand. Thomas Keller reminds people that slack dough can be kneaded with a machine. Someone makes slack dough by increasing the amount of water in the recipe (by increasing the percentage of water). My new recipe is based on information from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. He gives people enough information to use algebra and arithmetic to create recipes intelligently (rationally).

There are four things someone should know about making bread with a mixer:

  1. Firm dough must be kneaded by hand
  2. A mixer can be used to mix firm dough, but it cannot knead firm dough
  3. A mixer can mix and knead slack dough
  4. Someone must start and stop the mixer to push a firm slack dough in the bowl while kneading the dough with a mixer

This recipe uses advanced bread baking techniques while preserving the speed and simplicity for making bread with basic baking techniques. Someone may have to stretch the dough of bread made with advanced baking techniques several times to give slack dough structure. Stretching the dough develops gluten that uses the gases made during the fermentation process to make the bread rise. People probably do not have to stretch firm dough because firm dough has enough gluten to make the bread rise during the fermentation process. The recipe in this blog post makes firm slack dough using contemporary techniques for making slack dough. The flavor and texture of bread made using these techniques are exciting. The bread is nutty and slightly sour. The texture is soft and slightly chewy.

To make this bread, I used Thomas Keller’s ideas for creating a humid oven with a constant temperature. He recommends using a pizza stone, and putting rocks and a chain in a pan in the oven. These things can create a sauna by putting water on hot rocks. I used oven mitts and a glass measuring cup to put water on the rocks. Putting something cool in the oven decreases the temperature of the oven. The hot rocks and chain add a source of heat to the oven that reduces the effect of putting something in the oven. Baking bread on stone browns the bread differently and makes a crispier crust. Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques has the ideas I remember from my childhood for using quarry stones. Some people believe that this may be dangerous. I read a Safety Data Sheet for the stones I used to bake this bread. The information did not suggest the tiles were toxic. I believed that I would prefer to use a pizza stone since pizza stones are made for cooking. While using the tiles, I put the bread on parchment paper.

FACTS:

  1. Where the ‘Weight of Flour In Dough’ equals x, 2/3*x=’Weight of Poolish’ (Keller, p. 270)
  2. A poolish has an equal amount of flour and water; divide the weight of the poolish by 2 to know the amount of flour and water

STRATEGY

Choose the weight of the flour, x. My original loaf uses 550 grams of flour. Since x equals 550 g, the weight of my poolish is 366 g. Make a poolish with 183 g of flour and 183 g of water.

RECIPE:

Poolish
flour 183 g
yeast 0.2 g (1/2 teaspoon)
water 183 g

Dough
flour 550 g (100%)
yeast 2 g (0.2%)
water 275 g (50%)
table salt 14 g (3%)

Mix the ingredients for the poolish in a bowl, cover loosely, and let stand for 12-15 hours in a place that is about 75°F/24°C.

Put half of the flour and the yeast in a mixing bowl. Pour room temperature water into the poolish. Pour the poolish in the mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients to make very thick batter. Add the flour 1/4 cup at a time. Once someone has created smooth firm slack dough, add the salt. Knead for 20 minutes. Use a spatula to push the dough off the hook every 2 minutes. Put the dough in an oiled bowl to rise for 2 hours. Put the dough on a floured surface. Pre-shape the dough. Form the dough to make a large bâtard by hand (I will have to make a blog post for making a bâtard in the future). Bake the bread at 400°F/205°C degrees until the bread has an internal temperature of 200°F/93°C, about 20 minutes.

Download The Recipe:

Basic French Bread Recipe Using Contemporary Techniques

1. Thomas Keller: Bouchon Bakery (New York: Artisan, 2012), 270, 254-285.

2. Jacques Pépin: Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2001), 553-560.

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