Friday, May 4, 2012

Easy French Boule

I was watching the Cooking Channel's French Food at Home the other day. In this revisited episode, Laura Calder, the show's host, made an incredibly easy  French Boule. OMG! Four basic ingredients, a quick stir and no kneading!  I couldn't believe how simple it was.  "The closest to the real thing from France" she claimed. Needless to say, I was intrigued!

So, as part of my due diligence before drafting a post, I perused the internet to see what this was all about.  As it turns out, this recipe and its unconventional approach to baking bread, has been roaming the web for years. Okay, so I'm a little late getting to the party! In 2006, Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, and a personal favorite of mine, wrote an article touting the very same recipe and the revolutionary method used to make this bread. The method is all part of the no-knead bread making craze, which requires time over elbow grease to produce a bakery quality bread. I am quite familiar with the method having successfully made many loaves of multi-grain bread from the Heathly Bread in 5 Minutes A Day cookbook, but this recipe was even easier. The recipe Laura Calder used is the very same one Mark Bittman wrote about in the article, which he attributes to Jim Lahey, master baker and owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City.  

Making bread in the conventional manner has always been a bit intimidating for me. I have been less than successful achieving the right bakery quality crumb, flavor and texture. Obviously, achieving that takes lots of practice and patience. But this easier, though more time consuming method, is almost foolproof. The chief difference is you need to plan ahead to allow the 12-18 hours of rising time required. I will admit my loaf needed a bit more care in terms of shape, but, the overall taste was delicious and the texture just like the real thing!

The loaf's super crispy crust and chewy center was yummy dipped in seasoned olive oil, but also great as simple toast with butter and jam. The only negative is that the loaf did not remain fresh for very long, just like the real loaves in France. 

P.S. The instructions are a bit long, but trust me, the process is super easy. 

French Boule Bread
adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery 

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 tsp. instant/quick-rise yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 5/8 c. water

Requires a 6-8 qt. covered pot (cast iron, Pyrex or ceramic)
In a large bowl combine the flour, yeast and salt. Whisk to combine.  

Add the water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. 

Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I kept mine in my oven that had been previously warmed which worked great)

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over a few times. 

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. 

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface and your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.  Generously coat a cotton towel placed onto a baking sheet, with a generous sprinkle of flour.  

Put the dough, seam side down, onto the towel and dust with more flour.  

Fold over the ends of the towel to completely cover and let rise another 2 hours.  When ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. 

At least a half-hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the covered pot into the oven as it heats.  When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven.  

Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. It may look like a mess, but that is OK.  Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. 

Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 20-30 minutes until it is beautifully brown. Cool on a rack.   Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf. 



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