Julia Child’s French Bread is the ultimate in crusty artist bread. A wonderful loaf, simplified to the essentials to get it done with less fuss. While speed was not a goal, it was a total of 5 hours from start to the cooling rack.
In my previous post on my first try for a Julia Child’s Bread, I really tried to follow the recipe which was nine pages and was already “simplified” to some extent. It just didn’t work for me. Be it the house temperature, the yeast or just me; it didn’t work well for my simple mind.
I reviewed the recipe and decided what was important and what was just the way it’s been done. I looked at other recipes but no help. So I cut to the essentials and added some touches to improve success and simply. Nine pages of instructions became just over one.
The recipe of the year for 2010. The “Holy Grail” of bread.
Recipe Notes for Julia Child’s French Bread Simplified
First, I keep everything warm, heating the mixing bowls with warm water.
Second, I mixed the yeast with warm water before adding it. I really like this because it distributes the yeast throughout the dough with the water.
Third, I used rapid rise yeast. It’s the same organism but just produced differently, and more organisms are alive.
I used a sheet of parchment paper to make the transfer of dough easier. A large pizza stone was my baking stone. We all have one of those. I happen to have a large pizza peel also that was handy, but a cookie sheet without an edge should work or just pick up the raised dough by the parchment paper edges and move it that way.
A large glass serving bowl was used for the rising bowl. The straight sides and larger volume are necessary to judge the rise and was very handy to cover for the last rise, so nothing stuck to the dough. I used the bottom of the broiler pan that came with the oven on the bottom rack for the water.
The components that I think are most important:
The rest of the dough before kneading.
The short amount of hand kneading.
The large initial rise.
The use of tripling not doubling in size for the second and third rise.
And finally the baking method. I used the dutch oven method last time, and it was fine, but the stone is better but fussier. The moisture, both with the pan and brushing, is critical to the crust.
Other Bread Recipes You May Enjoy
Preheat stand mixer bowl with warm water. Dry bowl and add 3 1/2 cups AP flour and 2 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mix well.
Combine 1 1/2 cup 105-degree water with yeast and mix well. Wait for the yeast to “proof.” That is the bubbles that proves your yeast is good.
Add yeast mixture to the mixer and uses one additional tablespoon of water to rinse the measuring cup and add that water to the mixer. With the dough hook, mix on “2”. Continue to mix until ball forms. Be sure to scrape sides and bottom. The dough should pull away from sides and have about 2 inches sticking in the bottom. Add flour 1 tablespoons at a time if needed, Time: about 2 minutes.
Stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 2 minutes then restart kneading on 2. At 5 minutes into kneading, stop the mixer and check for “spring” by pressing your finger on the dough. It is done when this springs back. Keep checking every 2 minutes of kneading. It will usually take 5-7 minutes total.
While the dough is kneading, measure 10 1/2 cups very warm water into the large bowl with straight sides. Mark the top of the water for reference and pour out the water, dry bowl and spray lightly with Pam or oil or butter.
Place on a floured surface and hand knead for 2 minutes. Place dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic and towel. Place in a warm spot until raise to your mark. About 2-3 hours.
With a rubber spatula sprayed with Pam, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. If the dough seems very wet, then sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour. Press to somewhat flatten and form an about 12-inch square. Fold lower left corner to the upper right.
Lower right to the upper left. Fold on itself several more folds. Then form into a rounded ball with the folds underneath, and the top rounded like a cushion. Re-spray the large mixing bowl with Pam and place dough in and cover again with plastic wrap and towel. Place in a warm spot to rise to about triple in size. About 1 hour.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface again. Flatten slightly and gently into a round. Start turning edges underneath forming into a rounded ball stretching the “skin” to form a firmer ball of dough but not deflating the rise completely.
Place a square of parchment paper on a large wooden peel or a cookie sheet with no edge. Place dough in center and cover (I used the bowl I used for raising after you spray it again with Pam to prevent any sticking if it happens to touch the dough). Allow to rise until approximately triple in size again.
Preheat oven to 450 (not convection) with a baking stone on middle rack and pan for water on the bottom rack for at least 30 minutes.
Score top of dough about 1/4 inch deep with three cuts. Brush top liberally with water. Transfer on parchment paper to the baking stone.
At 3, 6 and 9 minutes, brush dough liberally with water. Add more 1 cup water to the pan at 6 minutes. Continue to bake until the top is browned and internal temp 200-205. About 25-30 minutes in total.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 2 hours before cutting.
Notes: A spray bottle would work great instead of the brush for the water on the dough in the oven.
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Editor note: This recipe was first published on April 4, 2010. I was a “baby blogger” having only 3 months of blogging under my belt. This was my first adventure into a major project. It is still one of my favorite recipes but has been long neglected by me. Time to fix that. I have updated the text, clarified some wording, re-edited and added some photos (some backgrounds may not match), and added a dog photo. Please enjoy this “simplified” version of a classic Julia Child’s recipe.