French boule (Artisan Bread: Free-Form Loaf)

Posted November 1, 2010 @ 10:38am | by Kori Mortenson

Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.


3 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt

6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Cornmeal for pizza peel

Mixing and storing the dough

1. Warm the water slightly: it should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 1000 F.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container.

3. Mix in the flour - kneading is unnecessary: add all of the flour at once.  Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor, or a heavy-duty stand mixer.

4. Allow to rise: cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, approximately 2 hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature.

On Baking Day

5. The gluten cloak: don't knead, just "cloak" and shape a loaf in 30 to 60 seconds. Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound piece of dough, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick to your hands.  Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel: allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes.

7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450o F, with baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.

8. Dust and slash: dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1/4 inch deep cross, "scallop," or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife

9. Baking with steam: After a 20 minute preheat, you're ready to bake.  Slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone.  Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.  When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or "sing," when initially exposed to room-temperature air.  Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire coolng rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing.

10. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days.

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