I miss real French bread.
If you’ve had it, you know what I’m talking about. Remember my trip to Poilane? Yeah, that kind of bread. It’s true that I could have a loaf shipped to me here in the United States. For the grand total of just under $50. So, yeah, not an option.
But, I have recently discovered something that has made my little French bread-loving heart so very happy: the 10-Minute Boule. It came to me thanks to a lovely man named Joseph Shuldiner (yes, the word “diner” is in his name, so that’s a good sign) who wrote this cookbook:
My recipe is adapted from his. He called it the “Twenty One Hour Boule”. Scary, right? Yeah, that’s why I call my adaptation the “10-Minute Boule”. So much less scary! Why the major time discrepancy, you ask? Well, he’s going by how long it takes for this bread to make itself, from the first cup of flour, to the first slice of warm, crusty bread. Whereas I am going by how much time you actually have to spend on this bread. I’m telling you, it practically makes itself.
Amazing bread that makes itself? Tell me more.
Why certainly! The way I do it is, I mix the ingredients on a Friday evening or Saturday morning. It takes 5 minutes. There are 5 ingredients: flour, vital wheat gluten, yeast, salt, and water. That’s all. No preservatives (this bread will be gone in, like, 15 minutes, so preservatives are a joke), no artificial nothin’.
Mix the dry ingredients, then add the water. Mix it all together until it is a big, beautiful, sticky mess.
Then, I cover it and leave it alone. That’s it! You are done for 18 hours!
Ozzy, my T Rex, will watch over it while it works its magic.
The yeast starts to eat the flour and it goes from being 5 ingredients to a whole new monster: a bubbly, yeasty lump of bread dough. Can’t you just smell it? *drooling*
Now leave it alone! Go have some wine! (French, of course!) The bread is making itself!
Now, 18 hours later (give or take; you can go longer if you need to. Don’t get up in the middle of the night or anything, for Pete’s sake) it will look like this:
See all the bubbles? That means that you have happy yeast that has dined for 18 hours on its favorite food: sugar (in the form of flour). Happy yeast=happy bread=happy me.
Next, you spend about 3 minutes folding the dough. Here’s how:
Take the plastic wrap off and dump the dough onto a floured surface. Sprinkle more flour on top. Stretch it into a long log shape like this:
Then, fold the two ends in, one over the other like this:
And then like this:
Then, repeat the process: turn it, stretch it, and fold it one more time. That’s it.
So, you might be wondering what that green stuff that looks like grass clippings is. It’s dried rosemary. You don’t have to add any herbs, but you also don’t have to have good things in life. Just sayin’. I’ve also added kalamata olives, which was delish. But if you are a purist, you can definitely make your bread plain. The French do. It’s still delish.
Now you’re going to form it into a boule shape like this:
Notice mine is not perfect. I like to call it “rustic”.
Whew! Your dough has worked hard and now it needs to rest again. For about 2 hours. It likes to rest back in its bowl, but first you’ll want to line your bowl with a floured tea towel or possibly some plastic wrap or parchment. You just need something to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl so that when it comes time to bake, you can lift it out and place it in the pot you’ll bake it in. I’m trying cheese cloth this time. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Plop the boule into the lined bowl. Cover it. You’re done. Go have another glass of wine. Or an espresso. Whatever you do, just leave the dough alone for a couple hours.
Ready to Bake?
You’ll need a cast iron pot for this part. If you don’t have one, I suppose you can bake without one, but you won’t get the crusty-ness, and then why bother? Just go to Target, buy one made by Lodge (that’s what I have) and now you have one that will last forever. It’s worth it.
Preheat your oven to 475 F with the cast iron pot in there. Yes, we are creating an oven inside an oven. Clever, right? Preheat that baby for a half hour.
When time’s up, take your pot out of the oven. You’re going to plop your bread dough in there. BE CAREFUL! That thing is hot! If you lined your bowl with plastic wrap, make sure it doesn’t touch the pot or it will melt right to it and you will be so sad and I will be so sad and the dough will be super duper duper sad. So don’t do that.
Once your dough is in the pot, throw the whole kit and kaboodle back into the oven, with the LID ON. Bake for 30 minutes.
Here’s where my technique and Mr. Shuldiner’s part ways: While he has you bake another 30 minutes with the lid off, that always ended up with a slightly burnt bottom on my bread. So, after the first 30 minutes, I take off the lid, turn off the oven, and set the timer for another 15 minutes. It will be golden like this after that first 30 minute bake:
After that last 15 minutes, your bread is DONE! It should be golden, gorgeous, and sound hollow when you tap on it.
As much as you will want to cut into it immediately, don’t do that! Let it rest. 30 minutes if you can stand it. 10 if you can’t. It should pop out of the pot easily, and now you can slice and enjoy.
WARNING: you will want to eat the whole loaf yourself! Oh, heck, why not. Go for it. And now, with just a little pre-planning, you have delicious, crusty French-y homemade bread any time you want it. Vive le pain! (That means “long live bread”, not “long live pain”, just in case you were wondering.)
(P.S.: I told you I would let you know how the cheese cloth did. Not well. Too much dough stuck to the loose weave of the cloth and I couldn’t get it off. So, don’t use cheese cloth. Next time, I’m going to try just pouring some olive oil into the bowl for that second rise rather than trying to line it with something. I’ll let you know how that goes.)
P.P.S.: The olive oil was also not a good idea; it gets too hot and burns the bread. So, I’ve gone back to lining with a well-floured tea towel. And when I say “well-floured” I mean douse that baby in flour. Like, put enough on the towel to point where you can’t see much of the towel anymore. The bread will not stick and then you won’t have bits of dough to wash off of the towel, either.
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten (available at your natural foods grocer or here)
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2~ cups water (start with 1 3/4 and add more until you get the sticky texture you want)
Follow the instructions above, have fun, and definitely leave a comment and let me know it goes for you!