Everyday Soft French Bread

Recently, my friend’s husband made this wonderful bread. It was so delicious, she ran over to give us a few slices to sample. Lucky me! 🙂 She also shared the recipe, of course. This bread is completely different from a classic crusty baguette. It is soft, tender, and quite dense. The dough is more manageable and it can also be made from start to finish in a single day.

The recipe was adapted from The French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis. The texture and flavor of this loaf are reminiscent of my husband’s favorite sourdough sandwich bread, which also includes milk and butter in the dough. Both this loaf and the sourdough sandwich bread seem to be resistant to becoming stale- if they’re not eaten right away. 😉

Yield: One 18 by 3-inch (45 by 7.5 cm) loaf

For the Bread:

  • 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 325 g to 360 g (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur), plus more for dusting
  • 2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Glaze:

  • 2 tsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp whole milk
  1. Scald the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, just until it has tiny bubbles around the edge of the pot.
  2. Remove from heat and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or to a large bowl.
  3. When the milk is slightly cooled (and no longer feels hot), sprinkle in the yeast and sugar. Let sit until some of the yeast has bubbled up to the top of the milk, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the salt, stir, and slowly add half of the flour.
  5. Add the melted butter.
  6. Add up to 1 1/4 cups (187 g) of the remaining flour to form a fairly thick dough. If the dough is still soft and very sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you get a dough that is firm, but not stiff. (I started with 325 g flour and incorporated an additional 20 g to achieve the desired consistency.)
  7. If using a stand mixer, knead the dough with the paddle attachment on low-speed for 5 minutes. Alternatively, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes.
  8. Form the dough into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. (I used a proofing oven.)
  9. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 C) and position a rack in the center.
  10. Gently punch down the dough down. Pull to form it into a baguette shape measuring 18-inches by 3-inches (45 cm by 7.5 cm). (I formed mine into a 16-inch long shape because of the length of my baguette pan.) Crimp the ends.
  11. Let it rise until it is about one-third larger, about 30 minutes. (I placed it on a baguette pan in a proofing oven.)
  12. To make the glaze, melt the butter and the milk together, whisk to combine. Keep warm until ready to use.
  13. Brush the loaf with the glaze. (I used about 2/3 of the glaze.) Score the top of the loaf 4 or 5 times using a sharp knife, lame, or kitchen shears.
  14. Bake until the loaf is golden and baked though, about 25 minutes.
  15. Remove from the oven, brush the loaf with any residual glaze, and let cool before slicing.

Sourdough Baguettes

When my husband gave me a baguette pan for Christmas, I knew where to find the perfect baguette recipe right away. Sally of Bewitching Kitchen is an incredible baker. She makes absolutely stunning artisan bread loaves and beautiful cookies- especially French macarons.

Sally posted this detailed “award-winning” recipe on her blog, from Samuel Fromartz, author of the blog ChewsWise, via wildyeastblog.com. I adapted the recipe to use my new baguette pan for the second rise and to bake the loaves. It worked perfectly. 🙂 I was very pleased! The original recipe on ChewsWise.com provided very helpful links regarding the process of both forming the baguettes and scoring them prior to baking.

I baked the first batch for 18 minutes and the second for 20 minutes. I preferred the extra crispiness achieved with the longer baking time. All of the loaves had a fabulous interior texture. The sourdough flavor was subtle. I used my starter directly from the refrigerator. Next time, I plan to feed my starter 7 to 10 hours prior to making the dough, as in the original recipe. (see Note) Pretty and delicious.

Yield: 4 baguettes

  • 90 grams sourdough starter (at 100% hydration- starter is fed with equal amounts of flour & water)(see Note)
  • 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 420 grams water
  • 590 grams flour (I used King Arthur Organic All Purpose Flour)
  • 10 grams whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
  • 13 grams fine sea salt
  • olive oil to grease bowl
  • cornmeal, for dusting (unless using a baguette pan)

First Day:

  1. Pour starter and yeast into bowl and add water, mixing until the starter breaks up a bit.
  2. Add flours and salt and mix for a couple of minutes. The dough will be heavy and shaggy.
  3. Let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes, covered with plastic.
  4. Rub the surface where you will knead the dough with a tiny amount of olive oil to prevent the dough from sticking (great tip originally from Dan Lepard). (I oiled a large cutting board.)
  5. Use a scraper to move dough onto the counter and begin to knead by stretching and folding dough, trying to use your finger tips.
  6. After kneading for 5 minutes, scrape mass into a clean bowl or plastic bin. (I lightly greased the bowl with cooking spray.)
  7. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. (I placed the bowl in a proofing oven.)
  8. Oil the counter (cutting board) again if necessary and remove dough to counter.
  9. Stretch it until 1-inch thick then fold top and bottom in thirds like a letter.
  10. Do the same type of folding, stretching until 1-inch thick, but now folding from left to right.
  11. Put dough back in the bowl, cover, let it rest for 20 minutes.
  12. Remove from bowl, repeat the folding technique, and put back in a covered bowl for 20 minutes.
  13. Remove from the bowl, fold again for the third and final time.
  14. Clean the bowl, oil lightly (with 2 tsp olive oil), and put dough back inside. (I put it in fold side up to oil the top, and then rotated it seam side down.)
  15. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.

Second Day:

  1. Place baking stone or quarry tiles in middle of oven.
  2. Place a thick rimmed cookie sheet or cast iron pan on oven floor or lower shelf. (I placed it on the rack just below the baking stone, shifted to one side to allow the steam to reach the loaves.)
  3. Heat oven to 470F (245 C). (I set a large oven to “Bake”- not on a convection setting.)
  4. Put a little olive oil in your palm and oil a 20-by-20 inch (50 x 50 cm) section of the counter.
  5. Remove dough from container. Cut dough in half. Put half back in container and into refrigerator.
  6. Cut dough into two rectangular pieces (about 250 grams each) and gently stretch into rectangles 5-by-7 inches (13-by-18 cm) with the long edge facing you.  Cover with plastic wrap or a light towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. While dough is resting, cut parchment paper large enough to fit your baking stone. Dust paper with flour. Dust  a couche (or kitchen towels) lightly with flour. (I used an unfloured non-stick baguette pan instead.)
  8. Shape dough into a log by folding top and bottom of rectangle toward middle and gently sealing the seam with thumb. Then fold top to meet the bottom and seal seam. You should have a log about 1.5 to 2 inches thick (4 to 5 cm). (I used this video) The goal is to create tension over the top surface of the dough.
  9. Gently roll and stretch into a 14-inch loaf (36 cm) or just under the size of your baking stone. Crimp the ends to seal.
  10. Place each loaf on parchment paper (or in baguette pan) about six inches apart, seam side down. Place one rolled up towel underneath the paper between the loaves and one under each other edge, supporting their shape.
  11. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap or a light kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (I used a proofing oven.)
  12. Put 2/3 cup water in measuring cup and bring to a boil in the microwave.
  13. Carefully move the paper with the loaves onto a flour-dusted overturned cookie sheet or cutting board. Dust top of loaves very lightly with flour. Use a bench scraper to gently adjust the loaves and straighten them out. (I did this in the baguette pan without transferring the loaves.)
  14. Make four or five cuts on the top of the loaf with a razor blade, 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep, running lengthwise on the dough. A swift slash at a sharp 20-degree angle works best. (see video link in step 8)
  15. Take cutting board and slide parchment paper with baguettes onto hot baking stone (or put the baguette pan on the baking stone). Shut oven door.
  16. Open door, and carefully pour 2/3 cup water onto cookie sheet or cast iron pan. (I put the cookie sheet on a gliding oven rack.) Be very careful if using boiling water. Shut door. Do not open the oven again while baking.
  17. Check baguettes after 18 to 20 minutes. They should be dark brown and crusty. If pale, continue baking for 1 to 2 minutes. (I found 20 minutes to be perfect in my oven.)
  18. Let cool for 20 minutes on rack before eating. They are best eaten within 6 hours.
  19. While baguettes are baking, form the remaining dough into loaves or leave for up to 24 hours and make fresh loaves the following day.

Note: To Make 90 grams Sourdough Starter at 100-percent hydration: Use equal parts of water and flour by weight, and ferment for 7 to 10 hours. Use 25 grams ripe and active sourdough, 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. After it ferments, use 90 grams of it in the bread and refresh the rest for future doughs.

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