The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


Floydm's picture

With the site turning one year old, I decided it was time to finally put together an article on French Bread. Regular readers probably have noticed that while I bake some kind of French Bread (rustic bread, pan sur poolish, etc.) almost every week, I've yet to do an article on it. It isn't because I haven't wanted to, I just haven't thought I was good enough at it to offer any advice.

Well, I'm still not great, but after a year of baking and chatting with folks here I have gotten better, good enough that I feel like it isn't presumptuous to offer some advice to newbies, particularly if they are offered in the grain of "Don't make the same mistakes I did. Because, believe me, I've made some doozies."

Initially I thought it'd be a short piece, but as I started writing I realized it is going to be longer. I was going to write them all and then drop them here with a big "tah dah!," but then I thought it'd make more sense to open them up for scrutiny to other community members. After all, probably a majority of the tricks I've learned I've learned from folks here.

So here is what I've got so far. The other tips will follow as I write them up the next few days. Please, add comments to offer advice, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, whatever tickles your fancy.

Once all of the tips have been written up and your suggestions and corrections have been incorporated into the text, I'll publish this article to the front page of the site. I think it'll be a good one, and I'm looking forward to hearing people's comments. I'd love to see this one be more of a collaborative effort.

sonofYah's picture

Done some bread baking this past Sunday. Was fun getting the ole fingers into the dough.

The first bread was two loaves of 100% Whole-wheat Bread. I used the recipe from Laurel's bread book. It is called "A Loaf To Learn". I have made it several times. And it usually turns out rather good. Especially after I found Wheat Montana brand whole-wheat bread flour at the local Wal-Mart.

A wonderful whole wheat flour that is high-gluten as well as chemical-free. It will definetly be used in my bakery. All the loaves I have baked with it so far have had a good taste as well as a good rise.

I also baked two loaves of Jeffrey Hamelman's "Semolina (Durum) Bread". Tastes good. Especially warm with butter spread on it. Makes good toast. May have to try it out in my French Toast recipe. Has a nice golden color. Made me wonder how semolina flour would do in my Challah bread.

The last two loaves I made were "Sourdough Wheat with Assorted Grains". Used a little bit of my brain power and came up with the recipe myself. Both loaves went out of the house this evening (Tue.) so I didn't get a chance to taste it. Guess I will find out how they came out after the individuals let me know.

I used flax seed, rolled oats, cracked wheat and rye, and toasted wheat germ for my grains. The sourdough starter I used was my rye based, San Francisco sourdough starter. Thanks BM from SF. I did use bread flour in this recipe as well as whole grain wheat flour. Montana of course.

What made this recipe especially gratifying for me was that I came up with the recipe myself. And the fact that it turned out with a great crumb structure. It also raised well despite the fact that I used the "no-knead" technique. Seems that by the time I got all the ingredients together, it was too much for my KA 4.5 qt. stand mixer. I might work a little more on this technique of bread building and use it in my bakery. To me, it seems to go hand in hand with the artisan way of bread building. Like sourdough. And the length of fermentation time lends itself to sourdough breads. Definetly don't want to use instant yeast with the no-knead method.

I was going to let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. But I wasn't sure of what the next day held in store. So I stayed up late and baked it.

Guess I need to get a digital camera so I can take pictures. Then I can look back and check my progress. Would help me refine my bread building.

Til next time, L'Lechem -- To Bread.

Teresa_in_nc's picture

What better title for my first blog than a turn of the phrase from that classic book by Betty MacDonald, The Egg and I? Usually if I want something catchy I have to borrow from someone brighter than myself.

A little introduction, I am Teresa and I live in North Carolina, which is a Southern state in the US. Among the things that I am, I am a bread maker. I'm also a mom, sister, daughter, friend and quilter. I started making bread in earnest about 30 years ago when I used the very basic of tools, a bowl, wooden spoon, measuring cups and spoons, and my hands. I've taught bread classes in my home, to 4H groups, as my job in a retail gourmet store, and I'm not yet tired of making bread.

Through the years I've tried many different kinds of breads from simple daily loaves to challah, hoska, brioche, stollen, focaccia, rolls, English muffins, pizza, sweet breads, and whole grain breads. These days I mostly bake grain breads using the 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 grain cereals. I guess I want the biggest nutritional bang from my bread. Two years ago I sent off for the Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter maintained by the Carl's Friends group of bakers. Finally, success with Sourdough! Now that my starter has some age on it, it is getting a nice sour twang that I can be proud of.

With the help of the fine people at I am working on perfecting my pizza dough. This past year I practiced on the New York-style and making a sauce that consistently suited my taste. Quarry tiles line my lowest oven rack for baking pizza and I use my wood peel (with the help of parchment paper) to transfer the pizza from the counter to the baking tiles.

I bake bread just about every weekend and other times when I have time off from my job. As an Event Coordinator at a textile company, I have the pleasure to plan business lunches and special events for many people. They know I'll always try to feed them well! Like most bakers, I share the breads I make with many co-workers, my family and my friends. I could not possibly eat all the bread I make - could you?

Bread making is such a satisfying pursuit. While I'm mixing and kneading I think about all those bread makers who came before me, the farm wife on the prairie during the Depression, the housewives in small hometowns during the 50's, hippies in communes during the 60's, and men, women, and children everywhere who have experienced the magic of making a loaf of bread, then shared it, still warm from the oven, with another person.

I will plan to make entries here as I proceed with my bread making. And now, I can post photos of my results as well.


timtune's picture

For a pot luck at church last weekend, I followed the 'Casatiello' recipe in the BBA.

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It was rich and very cheesy, and the crust was flaky.

Also made the Tuscan Bread recipe. But i think too much flour paste and water made the inside a lil sticky and it became a rustic dough..and somehow, the gluten didn't develop right. Anyone experience that too?
But the flour paste made the bread naturally sweet!
Nevertheless, good with a stew.. :)

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Floydm's picture

I've been meaning to mention that this site is one year old now. Check out the first post.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed and participated in the discussions.

May your bread always rise!

Floydm's picture

This weekend:

  • Banana bread: good, as always. I haven't baked it since the holidays began. Nice to have again.

  • Sourdough batch #1: refrigerated overnight. Great flavor, but too dense. About like a bagel. I still ate two-thirds of the loaf.

  • French bread: Awesome. Perfect with the pot of soup I made on a cold, damp day. Pictures and more info to come.

  • Sourdough batch #2: I thought I did everything right, but instead of springing in the oven it just sat there. Came out with the consistency of mochi, so I just tossed it. I'm not sure if I used too much starter or too little. Shrug. I'm still getting the hang of it.

sonofYah's picture

Well, this is my first blog. And It won't be very active at present. I seem to be working a lot of hours lately. About 60-70 per week. I have a full time job with a short-line railroad in SW Indiana. We move railcars for a major plastics/chemical plant in the area. I am also working part-time at a local grocery store bakery.

Wish the bakery job paid more. They have offered to train me as a bakery manager. But the money doesn't seem to be there. And if it is, the present manager could become upset. I think I would be making more than she does after 17 years with the company. Besides, it is not my type of bakery. Couldn't get my hands in the dough. Would have to deal with commercial breads and such.

Probably better off starting my own bakery. Then I could focus on the naturally leavened, whole-grain, artisan breads I enjoy making.

I have found a location on a major thouroughfare in town. It is a little small. But has great parking, wonderful location, and the rent is really reasonable. Now to buy the equipment. But first, I need to work on the business plan and make another appointment with SCORE.

Looking at raising some initial money by selling subscriptions online for meal menus. I figure I can make up four special menus monthly. The meals would be easy and nutritious. Yet fit for a special family meal. Also putting most of my wages from the bakery in a seperate checking account for expenses.

Looking at the possibility of apprenticing myself out to a local baker who makes the types of bread I am interested in. This means I would have to quit the other bakery job. But I have the okay from the owner of the shop where he works. This individual was trained in Italy. He has started and sold three bakeries in the area.

But first, I need to see where my railroad job takes me in the next month. There is the possibility that I could get the new Clerk's position. This would allow me to get inside out of the weather. It would also mean that I would be working days. Which means I would not be able to work at either bakery. I could work for myself though.

Decisions, Decisions.

Well, enough for now. 'Til Next Time.

whitedaisy's picture

There was soooo much food in my house, over the holiday, that I stoped baking so we could catch up. Yesterday my hubby said the words I love to hear, "Is there any bread." I made a variation of the recipe in lesson 1, and was surprised to see the loaf disapear in about an hour.

Floydm's picture

As I mentioned in my previous post, last night I placed my new sourdough starter in the oven with just the light on to see if staying 80 degrees overnight would give it some pep. It did, having slightly over doubled in size by this morning.

I also started a poolish last night so I could do a standard French bread if my starter wasn't looking lively. It too was ready to go this morning.

"Hey," I thought, "Since I have both, why don't I try making a yeasted and a sourdough version of the same recipe and compare how they come out? That's a good idea, innit?"

It is if you can remember which is which, but I, alas, could not.

My head was just not together this morning and I mixed up the two. What I knew was that I had two batches of my simple rustic bread: 14 oz. bread flour, 1 oz. rye flour, 1 oz. whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 12 ounces water. One of the two had a teaspoon of instant yeast and a cup or so of poolish in it, the other had half a cup of sourdough starter.

For the life of me, I could tell them apart: I was certain the one that was rising fast was the sourdough. It smelled like sourdough. Or maybe that was just the rye flour?

In the end I figured out which was which, but by then I botched the shaping of one of the sourdough loaves. Against all odds, the other one came out well.

The poolish bread:
poolish batards

The sourdough round:
sourdough round

The two side-by-side (sourdough on left):

A close up of the sourdough:
sourdough crumb

The poolish bread was much lighter and had a much more evenly open crumb. The sourdough was somewhat dense and should have been allowed to rise another half hour or hour (and would have, if I'd remembered which one it was), but it still developed a beautifully irregular crumb and tasted marvelous. That it came out not only edible but excellent proves my assertion that even a dunderhead can bake a naturally leavened bread if they are willing to keep trying.

Next weekend I bake ONLY sourdoughs, or a sourdough and something that I couldn't possibly confuse it with, like a brioche or a challah.

Floydm's picture

I've been feeding my starter every 12 hours since Thursday evening. It isn't too lively: I'm getting some growth and bubbles, but nothing close to doubling in size.

I went ahead and fed it again this evening. I put it in the oven with just the light bulb on, which keeps it around 80 degrees. We'll see if a slightly warmer environment stimulates it enough that I can bake with it tomorrow. If not, I may cheat and make a sourdough that is spiked with half a teaspoon of yeast, since it *smells* like sourdough. I'd like to get a chance to taste it.

I went ahead and made a poolish tonight too, so at the very least I could make a decent loaf of French bread tomorrow.


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