The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Peter Reinhart's French Bread Recipe

jamie0168's picture

Peter Reinhart's French Bread Recipe

I just purchased Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. The first recipe I tried was his French bread recipe and it was a disaster. I used all of his tips for hearth baking, read every page of the introductory chapter, and followed the recipe to the letter. The loaves came out so hard and dense, I could have injured someone with them, if I'd chosen to use them as bats!


I simply cannot figure out what went wrong. With my gut feeling, I felt that when things began to look wrong was at the mixing of the pate fermente with the other ingredients to make the final dough. It was very dry and I had to add a good amount of extra water to get a soft, tacky dough that he asked for. And then, come rise time, it didn't quite rise as quickly or as much as I'd expected it to. I left it a tad longer than the recipe said to, but then shaped it. Once again, the loaves did not rise to what I expected to be their full potential. So sad that I had to throw away the loaves as they were inedible!  


Any insights?

silkenpaw's picture

It does sound that your dough had too little water but I can't comment as I'm not familiar with that recipe.

Did you use volume or weight to measure ingredients? Did you use the recommended flour (different flours absorb different amounts of water). Did your dough rise normally? Did you bake it for the recommended length of time and at the recommended temperature? Etc., etc.

kenaucre's picture

congrats on taking the first step to bread mastery... actually applying the methods from a great book, instead of just reading and shelving...

Okay, to diagnose the problem, let's figure out the variables:

-what was the temp in the room during the ferment?

-what kind of yeast were you using? How long has it been opened? What is the date on the package?

-was your water cold, warm, or sizzling hot?

-were you weighing ingredients (including the yeast) or did you use volume?

-anything else we should know? oven temp? did you steam the oven, or do a classic dry bake?


silkenpaw's picture

...and you may have had a problem with your yeast. It sounds like you went mostly by time to determine the correct length of rising. Did you test the dough? Also, when you handled the dough, did the gluten seem developed or did the dough come apart too easily? Or was the dough too tough?

You said that you added a lot of water to get the correct consistency. Do you think the consistency was what the author intended or tougher? There may not have been enough yeast to properly raise the drier dough in the time estimated. The time given in a book is always an estimate only, since the conditions may be different than what is in your kitchen and because yeast is a living organism with it's own caprices, affected by temperature, salinity, chlorination and other factors.

Hope that helps,

jamie0168's picture

Alot of questions to answer: It's very cold here now, so I guess my semi-cold apartment might have had something to do with it. 


I steamed the oven, my water was warm, I weighed the ingredients, yeast was room temp and brand new, I baked at recommended time and temp, ...

No, the bread did not rise correctly. It seemed very tough as I was kneading it. I noticed a slight improvement later in the kneading. I think it passed the "window pane test" with a C-. I wasn't sure what else to do to make the dough less tough. It seemed too late to add extra water. 

jamie0168's picture

I want to try another one of his recipes tomorrow, but now I'm a bit scared of the outcome. I've been baking bread for a few years now, but this has been one of my worst baking experiences. 


I'll give it another shot. I just hope it goes better this time. 

kenaucre's picture

so it sounds like you are baking by the "letter of the law" instead of "the spirit of the law" at the moment... or I believe that's how reinhart put it in the intro.

Your dough is a living creature, and you must treat it as such, since two NEVER grow the same.

three recommendations for you.

1. find a warm spot in your kitchen. a warming drawer in an oven, an oven on it's lowest temperature (with the bowl wrapped in a towel and the door cracked), inside or on top of a dehydrator (i use an excalibur dehydrator as a proofing box since the temp can be set from 85 to 155), or simply on top of the fridge (heat rises).

the point is, warm dough is happy, active dough, give it the environment it needs to grow.

2. use a proofing bowl where it's easy to identify whether the dough has doubled, tripled, or not moved at all. you'll find dough proofing buckets at the bakers catalogue that have graduations on the side. these are used to determine growth rate of the proofing dough. Now, this step is not at all necessary if you have a container already that you can judge the ferment. It doesn't have to be graduated, you just gotta know how to read the change visually.

3. do not be afraid to add a little extra water when mixing. you did the right thing. remember that, of all your ingredients, your water temp is the easiest to get the yeast inspired with. If you want a quick rise (less hassle, less flavor), use 115 degree water. if you want a retarded ferment (slow, but yummy) use ice cold dough and proof it overnight.

so, go try again, but here's the catch... why would you move to a different recipe quite yet? why not do the same thing until you are at least comfortable with the outcome? otherwise, you are starting from scratch on your "dough feel memory". Every dough works quite differently. Now that you know what to do differently, try it on the same dough, and keep doing it until it's good. 


1. weigh, don't measure, your ingredients (except yeast... home-batch sizes sometime have a difficult time with this little amount of measuring)

2. try with warm water, and a warm home for proofing.

3. don't overmix the dough. shy away from adding extra flour when shaping.

4. proof until it's light like a pillow and at least double in size.

5. Relax, and enjoy yourself. This is fun, right?



Chef Ken,

Johnson and Wales Class of '02, Culinary Arts

yes, I learned from Peter :) he's the man.


Baker Frank's picture
Baker Frank

What you experienced is not that uncommon when beginning a new technique or working your way though a new recipe. You have received some good advice already. My suggestion would be not to move on to a different recipe but to repeat the French Bread again, but this time you have experience and advice on your side.

Good luck, Frank

Talever's picture

Hello Jamie


Made this bread about 10 times now.  I weigh everything, mix as directed, Stretch and fold seems to make a big difference.  I do it four times in the first hour and I keep it in a Microwave in between in a large plastic container.  Then into the fridge over night or up to two days.  Remove bring to room temp shape then rise and into hot oven with steam pan below.  It make really great tasting bread.  Give it another try and see how it goes. 



I use KA bread flour.  I have tried others and the KA seems to work really well