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French Country Bread

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Yields one loaf.

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 7

The combined effort of bread machine and time make a loaf with a robust flavor and a crust that is at once crusty and chewy.

For the Sponge:
  • 2/3 cup warm (105 to 115°F) water
  • 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. rye flour
For the Bread:
  • 13 to 15 oz. (3 to 3-1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1-1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. active dry yeast
  • Cornmeal or semolina for baking
  • Flour or bran flakes for finishing (optional)
Make the sponge:

Put the water and yeast in the bread machine pan and let stand a few minutes. Add the flours. Set the machine on the dough program and let the kneading blade mix the ingredients into a batter-like glop, about 3 minutes, and then unplug the machine. (You can also mix the sponge in a bowl and then put it in the machine.) Let the sponge proof for 4 to 16 hours. It should look bubbly and smell yeasty.

Make the bread:

Add the 13 oz. flour, water, honey, salt, and yeast to the proofed sponge and reset the machine to the dough program. After the dough has been kneaded for 5 minutes check its texture; it should be soft and springy. (Be sure to keep your fingers out of the way of the blade.) If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 1 Tbs. at a time.

When the dough program has finished (the dough has risen once), remove the dough and put it in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

If the dough has been refrigerated, let it come to room temperature. Punch down the dough and shape it into a ball. Line a 10-inch-diameter basket or bowl with a floured dishtowel. Gently put the ball of dough inside, smoothest side down. Lightly oil the top of the dough and cover with a thin dishtowel. Let it rise again until the ball is puffy and almost doubled, which will take anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Heat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle a baking sheet with the cornmeal or semolina. Gently invert the ball of dough onto the baking sheet. If you like, slash the loaf with a razor blade and sprinkle it with some flour or bran flakes

Spray the oven with a few spritzes of water from a spray bottle and put the bread on the lowest rack in the oven. For the first 15 minutes of baking, spray the oven walls every few minutes. This seems tedious, but it will give the bread an incredible crust.

Reduce the heat to 425° and bake until well browned, about 30 to 35 minutes in total. The loaf should sound hollow when rapped on the bottom. Cool well on a rack before slicing.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : per slice; Calories (kcal): 70; Fat (g): fat g 0; Fat Calories (kcal): 4; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 0; Protein (g): protein g 2; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 0; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 15; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 0; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 115; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 0; Fiber (g): fiber g 1;

Photo: Martha Holmberg

I'm a bit confused by the directions. Cook for 15 minutes at 450 then 425 for 30-35 minutes total. Does this mean 15-20 minutes at 425? or 30-35 minutes at 425?

I followed the recipe very carefully. I didn't have a bread machine so used the bread hook on my mixer. The bread turned out just like what was described, crusty, moist crumb, good chew, and flavorful. It takes hours, but little effort.

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