Dough for French Bread and Hard Rolls (With apologies to Julia Child)

This takes about 4 hours to prepare

The yeast mixture:
 

1 package

dry-active yeast (I use one scant tablespoon of Red Star yeast)

1/3 cup

tepid water (not over 110 F) in a 2-cup measure

teaspoon

sugar

3 cups 

(1 pound) unbleached flour Bread flour if possible or all-purpose; plus a little additional if needed

1 tablespoon

rye or whole wheat flour (I use a coarse ground rye)

2 teaspoon

salt ( I use sea salt or Kosher salt)

1 cup

cold water plus an additional 1/3 cup or so additional water if necessary

Here the recipe calls for using a 2 quart food processor with a plastic blade. I use my stand mixer with the dough hook to process and knead the dough.

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water, and stir it in along with the sugar; let stand for 5 minutes or more until the mixture has foamed up, proving to you that the yeast is active. I often skip this step when using Red Star yeast because I am confident that it is active.

Measure the flours and salt into the bowl of the processor. Stir up the yeast to be sure it has thoroughly dissolved, blend in the cup of cold water and set the mixture by your side, along with the extra water and extra flour. Start the machine.

Preliminary kneading about 60 seconds. With the machine going, rather slowly but steadily pour in the yeast mixture. If the dough does not form into a ball in a few seconds dribble in a little more water, adding more dribbles at several second intervals until the dough balls on top of the blade and revolves under the cover 8 to 10 times don't worry if particles of dough do not join the mass and remain in the bottom of the container. If by chance you have added too much water and the dough refuses to ball or clogs in the machine, keep it running and pour in a tablespoon or so more flour until the revolving ball forms.

Stop the machine, remove the cover, and feel the dough. If it seems damp and wet, start the machine again, pour in a tablespoon or so of flour and let the ball rotate several times under the cover. Now let the dough rest 4 to 5 minutes; a rest allows the flour particles to absorb the liquids and facilitates kneading.

Turn on the machine and let the dough rotate 30 times under the cover, then remove it to a lightly floured work surface. The dough should be fairly smooth and quite firm. Be careful not to over knead the dough in the processor causing it to heat up.

Let the dough rest 2 minutes, then knead roughly and vigorously rapidly fold the dough over itself, push it our with the heels of your hands and repeat 50 times. The final dough should not stick to your hands as you knead (although it will stick if you pinch and hold a piece); it should be smooth and elastic and, when you hold it up between your hands and stretch it down, it should hold together smoothly.

Put the dough into a clean dry bowl, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, let rise in a warm place free from drafts. (I heat my oven for about a minute then place the bowl in the lower third and close the door). Note that the bowl is not oiled the French theory is that dough needs a seat to push up from. This first rise is sufficient when the dough has definitely started to rise and is about 1 times its original volume.

Turn the dough onto your lightly floured work surface; roughly and firmly pat and push it out into a 14 inch rectangle. Fold one of the long sides over toward the middle and the other long side over to cover it, making a 3 layer cushion. Repeat the operation. This step redistributes the yeast throughout the dough for a strong second rise. Return the dough smooth side up to the bowl; cover with plastic wrap and again set to rise.

This time let the dough rise 2 to 3 times its original bulk. It is the amount of rise here, not the timing. The dough is now ready to form.

Forming the loaves:

To make 2 fat loaves, cut the dough in half, and fold each piece in half end to end. Pat 1 piece firmly into a 14 inch rectangle, squaring it up as evenly as you can.

Keeping your work surface always clean and very lightly floured, fold the rectangle of dough in half lengthwise, its 2 edges towards you. With the heel of your hand, press and pound the dough firmly where the two edges meet, to seal them. Then pound the rest of the rectangle flat a firm hand here reactivates the yeast to give your loaf more volume. Roll the dough forward so that the sealed seam is on top. Pat it firmly again into a rectangle, being sure it is not sticking to the work surface.

With the side of your hand, press a trench down the central length of the dough following the seam. Fold the dough again lengthwise, its joined edges toward you. Again press and pound the two edges together, pounding and flattening the rest of the rectangle. Rotate the dough so the seal is underneath. Now rotate the dough rapidly back and forth under your palms, starting at the middle and sliding your hands to the ends, and off the ends to make them pointed. Repeat several times, extending the loaf as evenly as possible to the length you wish. Rotate the loaf seam side up. Be sure the seam is sealed. Lift it seal side up onto a lightly floured towel cover loosely with a second towel and form the second loaf. (Here I place the loaf into my clay baking pans rather than the towels. You might also place them on your peel for rising.)

Let rise to more than double 1 to 1 hours at around 75 F.

Set your stone in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450 F for at least 20 minutes.

Baking:

Tools: A single edge razor for slashing the top of the loaf. Steam. To create the steam throw a cup of cold water in the bottom of the oven right after you put the loaves in. I usually put the water in a shallow pan placed on a bottom oven rack.

Slash the tops of the loaves by holding the razor almost parallel to the surface of the loaf and make three quick slashes about inch deep. Slide the loaves off the peel onto the baking stone and toss in the cup of cold water and close the oven door. Check the bread after 20 minutes. It will have swelled and the slashes will open. In 20 minutes it should be brown and crusty, but it will require another 10 minutes or so at 400 F to cook through. Check the bottom of the loaves and if they are getting too brown place an oven rack beneath them to raise them from the hot stone. If the tops are browning too fast cover loosely with foil. The bread is done when a thermometer, placed into the loaf through one of the slashes reads 200 F.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack.