This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please visit the disclosures and privacy policy page.
Aug 15, 2012

Pain Francais - Plain French Bread

This recipe is from Julia Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two, and the recipe is nearly twenty pages.... twenty pages....

While this bread takes several hours to make (mostly waiting for the dough to rise), it actually was very easy.. except when it came time to slash the dough and move it to the oven. It was there that I struggled.

You are supposed to be able to slash the loaves before placing them in the oven, but in my case, my lovely round mini-baguettes just went pffft and flattened when I began slashing them. That is supposed to indicate that the loaves have over proofed and that is likely what happened. The loaves are supposed to take 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours to rise, and mine were past ready in an hour. This dough is also very wet, which makes it difficult to slash. Rest assured, I will continue to work on getting this right!

Nonetheless, the flavor is wonderful. We sliced them lengthwise through the middle and they made great sandwiches.One of my favorite quotes from the book is "You may muff this every once in a while, and produce some queerly deformed shapes, but they will all bake into bread." Indeed they did.

For an easier, one day version that won't deflate, be sure to try Classic French Bread

French Bread

Makes three mini-baguettes/batards.

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
1/3 C warm water (about 90 to 100 degrees)
3 1/2 C, (about 16 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour.
2 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 C room temperature water

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. While it's dissolving, mix the flour and salt in a the bowl of a stand mixer (You may also hand knead this dough if you do not have a mixer).
Add the dissolved yeast and the rest of the water.
Stir the ingredients to form a ball and allow it to rest for two or three minutes.
Knead the dough on low for about 5 minutes with the dough hook.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and let it rest for three or four minutes.
Knead by hand for a minute.
Place the dough into a bowl or dough rising bucket, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it is 3 1/2 times its original size. This should take three to five hours.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl and, with floured hands, flatten the dough into round.
Stretch and fold the dough over itself from all four sides to form a ball and place it back into the bowl (covered) to rise again.
Allow the dough to rise to about 2 1/2 to 3 times its original size. This should take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
To shape the baguettes, cut the dough into three equal pieces, fold in half, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rest for five minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, flatten each piece of dough into an 8 inch long rectangle, and fold the dough in half lengthwise. Seal the edges together with the sides of your thumbs.
Turn the dough so that the seam is facing up, and flatten the dough again and refold and seal again.
Begin rolling the dough back and forth with both hands, starting with your hands in the center, and slowly moving them to the ends until the loaves are about 14 to 16 inches long.
Place the loaves into a floured towel to rise 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I baked my loaves on a preheated baking stone, but you can also bake them on a baking sheet.
Once the loaves have risen, slash them, and move them to your baking sheet or peel (if you are using a stone). I placed mine on strips of parchment to make moving them easier.
Slash the loaves, mist them with water, and place them in the oven.
Spray them three more times, every three minutes (or set up your oven for steam baking).
Bake for 25 minutes until browned and they sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Allow to cool for two to three hours.

To quote Julia: "Although bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself."

I am picturing bread "composing itself." What a perfect descriptor.

Today is Julia Child's 100th birthday. Susan of Yeastspotting chose this recipe for the Bread Baking Babes and Buddies to honor Julia, and PBS is celebrating her birthday with #cookforJulia.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Ah yes the slash, I have problems always there. If you watched the video, Julia's slash was not perfect either ;-)
    I keep coming back to this one. As easy as the recipe was the first time it still get easier. Not sure it gets better, but it's so perfect the first time no matter the shape.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it was great watching her drag the razor through her bread. =) I think this is going to become an obsession for me.

  2. Slashing is always my biggest "problem". I still think your loaves look great. Hope you'll drop by to share w/ BYOB, too.

    1. I will. Thanks for the kind words.

    2. I'm about ready to bake another batch of Pain Francais, Karen!! I'm happy that you brought yours over and added it to the bread basket for the month =)

  3. Hmmm I hear you on the slashing, the "moment suprème" is not so easy to distinguish but I would dip your french going ciabatta in some oil and have no troubles devouring a loaf!

  4. No matter how it may 'look' I am positive this would taste so good. Thank you for sharing this with BYOB.

    1. Thanks Michelle. They did taste really good.... but I still want to achieve the "look." =)


I would love to hear from you! If you comment anonymously, be sure to leave your name in your comment.