Peter Reinhart’s French Bread

French Bread from Peter Reinhart - The Bread Baker\'s Apprentice

When I first got interested in making bread, I found baguettes to be the most intimidating. How can I get irregular holes in the crumb? How can I get regularly spaced slash patterns? How can I get a golden crackly crust?

It took more than a few tries to make passable baguettes with this recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The shaping of the baguettes proved to be the most difficult step and required a lot of practice and several attempts at misshapen, albeit delicious, loaves.

makes 3 baguettes

For the pre-ferment (pâte fermentée):

2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) water, at room temperature

Notes:

  • Reinhart suggests half all-purpose and half bread flour, but I like the extra chewiness from using 100% bread flour (King Arthur Bread Flour).
  • The suggested amount of water is 6 to 7 ounces and I went with the higher amount initially. Since I used 100% bread flour, the dough will be able to take more water due to the higher protein content in the flour.

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl until the dough comes together and knead until it goes from a sticky mess to a smooth ball.

French Bread pre-ferment - pâte fermentéeFrench Bread pre-ferment - kneaded pâte fermentée

Don’t worry too much about developing the gluten at this point.

Let rise in a sealed container for about 1 hour at room temperature or until it expands to 1 1/2 times its size.

Knead lightly for about a minute and return to the sealed container. Keep in the refrigerator overnight. The pre-ferment will be usable for up to 3 days, although I tend to get nervous when it’s been sitting around for more than 24 hours. Sometimes it seems like it’s about to pop out of the container and spill all over the vegetables and eggs in my refrigerator. Not that it’s ever happened before. Be sure that your container can handle a volume at least 3 times as big as the dough.

For the final dough:

All of the pâte fermentée
2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) water, at room temperature

Notes:

  • The new dough is identical to the pâte fermentée formula. Pre-fermenting half of the final dough is one of many techniques used to achieve a fully developed flavor.

French Bread bubbly pre-ferment - pâte fermentée
Take your pre-fermented dough out of the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for about 1 hour to take off the chill. It will be bubbly and may continue to rise in your container.

French Bread pre-ferment pieces - pâte fermentée
Cut up the pre-ferment into small pieces and mix with the second half.

Knead for about 10 minutes. I favor the kneading technique demonstrated in this video. Richard Bertinet is shown working on a sweet dough recipe but the technique also works well for our baguette dough.

I strongly encourage doing it by hand as opposed to using a KitchenAid. It’s eerily satisfying when everything starts coming together after slapping the stringy dough onto a work surface repeatedly. It’s not like I have a choice, though, since I have neither the funds nor the counter space to take the plunge.

In a lightly oiled container, ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.

French Bread final dough after 2 hours fermentation
It’s very important to put some oil in the container so the dough doesn’t stick when extracting from the bowl later. It should come out as one well-formed blob and feel very slightly sticky to the touch. From this point on, handle the dough as gently as possible to keep the bubbles within from deflating.

French Bread divided dough
Use a weighing scale and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. It’s okay to cut off small bits of dough to evenly distribute.

The next step is arguably the most difficult. Shaping the baguettes requires a lot of practice so don’t get frustrated if you end up with lopsided loaves. It’ll taste good regardless. The shaping method I use is demonstrated in this video created by a member of The Fresh Loaf.

Shaped French baguettes proofing in linen couche
Proof the shaped baguettes with the seam side up at room temperature for 45 to 75 minutes or until it expands to 1 1/2 times its size. The loaves in the picture are settled in a floured linen couche, but parchment paper can be used in the same manner. This will keep the loaves from flattening out and help maintain a tubular shape.

Preheat your oven to 500°F with a steam pan, preferably cast iron, in the bottom of the oven. I have a dedicated cast iron skillet used solely for creating steam in the oven. Don’t use your well-seasoned cast iron skillet passed down from grandma. The high oven heat will ruin the seasoning you’ve been painstakingly maintaining all these years. I had to find out the hard way. If you have one of those fancy ovens with built-in steam functionality then we probably won’t get along.

Proofed French baguettes ready to be baked
Transfer the proofed baguettes onto parchment paper on the back of a sheet pan. The seams previously on top should now be on the bottom.

Scored French baguettes ready to be baked
Score the baguettes. Imagine a line running down the top of the loaves. Using a very sharp knife or a bread slashing tool called a lamé, create incisions about half an inch deep that overlap and run almost parallel to the imaginary line running down the center of the loaves. Cuts that run from side to side will barely expand because long loaves tend to widen instead of lengthen as a result of oven spring.

Load the oven with the sheet pan or transfer the loaves onto a hot baking stone. Pour 2 cups of boiling water onto the steam pan and immediately close the oven door. Lower the oven to 450°F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes until the crust turns golden brown.

French Baguettes cooling on a rack
Place the baguettes on a cooling rack for about 1 hour. Try to keep yourself from biting the crackly ends off straight from the oven. Each baguette will tip the scales at the traditional weight of approximately 250 grams.

French Baguette la grigne - scoring
Le Grigne

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69 Responses to “Peter Reinhart’s French Bread”

  1. Steven Hall says:

    A pal recommended me to read this page, great post, fanstatic read… keep up the cool work!

  2. Jenny says:

    This looks like an interesting recipe, I’d like to try it. Does the Richard Bertinet’s way of kneading applicable for the pre-ferment dough as well?

  3. Mike says:

    Good recipe, I tried this over the last two days and the taste is great, crust was perfect and my kids won’t stop eating it. The only issue I had was I baked one loaf with the seem on the side and it split open a bit, but not too bad. It took 35 minutes in the oven at 450. Thanks for putting this together.

  4. Jenny says:

    Tried this and I didn’t get as much holes as I like. The crust was not as crispy and brown as shown in the pics here, sort of a dull brown. Is it because I did let the final proof long enough? or I handled the dough a little too hard? How do you get the golden brown?

  5. Fennel Grissini & French Bread « Pease Pudding says:

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  6. Steve says:

    I’d like to try to make this, but I don’t know what a steam pan is for the bottom of the oven. Can anyone describe it or give a link?

    Thanks!

  7. Danielle says:

    I believe it’s something like this..

    http://www.amazon.com/HALF-12-0555-Challenger-STEAM-TABLE/dp/B00125RF64/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=gourmet-food&qid=1268682193&sr=8-8

    Similar to the kind you’d cook a roast in.

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  9. Dale Luepke says:

    Amazing display of tasty goodness! Adding to my must try list NOW!

  10. Leon says:

    I love French bred. Got French bakkery next door. Now I know how they’re make it, thanks for good read! :)

  11. Maria Daquilante says:

    you can be wrong on this one I found a vid about it see for your self http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwnKZ7NpKTc

  12. Susu says:

    Regaurding the steam pan – be careful, there are the kind of table steam pans that are meant to maintain food tray temperature in buffet lines, but the steam pan you would bake with is like a cookie sheet with higher edges to hold the water and dispearse the steam evenly. I’ve found them at Bed, Bath & Beyond as well as your local restaurant supply store (those places are cheaper and more knowledgable). Also, for those whole love to bake, it is wise to invest in a nice baking stone. It may be an adjustment at first, but it is entirely worth it!

  13. Emma H. says:

    I like how vivid you have posted the recipe and I appreciate the pictures as well. I have never made a bread in my entire life. Well, guess this is worth a try!

  14. Emily says:

    I am making this recipe right now. I have let the pre-ferment sit over night in the fridge, and now it is on the counter warming up. It isn’t bubbling, though. I’m not sure what I could have done wrong, but hopefully I will still have a satisfactory bread after baking.

  15. Iris says:

    HOw can i change this recipe if i was to use whole grain wheat flour?? would I add a little bit more water? Please let me know.

    Thank you!

  16. Iris says:

    Also, how can i use the pre-fermented dough throughout the next 3 days? if i dont want to make all 3 baguettes.

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  18. bestbuy says:

    I love French bred. Got French bakkery next door. Now I know how they’re make it, thanks for good read! :)

  19. Freeda Windus says:

    you are professional.

  20. Bread Lover Mommy says:

    Truly excellent advice, thank you for taking the time. When I first started out making bread, French baguettes have to be the hardest, and I still cant make them that well! I’ll try to follow your tutorial this week and see how it turns out~ Thank you ;)

  21. Vigliotti says:

    I just started baking and I bought Peter Reinharts artisan breads everyday. I am making the classic french bread and i had 2 issues: firs one was he says to make the dough the day before and put in fridge overnight, which I did. today was the day i woe up tokk my dough ou and had to cut into 10oz portions and shape to a batard. The problem I have is shaping them into batards I feel cold dough was not letting me seel the dough and as I was rolling the m I felt it was coming apart at the seems. Should i Have let the dough rest at room temp first before shaping?

    Second issue Ihad was afer scoring which I used a serrated knife, I baled bread according to the book using the hearth oven method and the bread didnt spring and I ended uo with just slashes in bread that didnt poof out. I think issue was while bread was proofing I left them on top of hot oven and the proofed masybe too quickly?

  22. Eva Holmes says:

    I made the poolish described in Peter Reinhart’s book- Crust and Crumb. I took it out of the refrigerator on the 2nd day. It looked like it had seperated and had little pools of yellowish liquid. I mixed it and used it in the team USA french bread recipie which is now risin my counter. I am wondering if the poolish is bad or is it supposed to look like that?

  23. #363: French Bread | Foods I like says:

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  24. An says:

    What is the size of each baguette you made? I know the standard length is 24 inches, but I want to make sure so I can adjust the recipe accordingly.

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    Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

  27. michael says:

    I use Gold Medal Better for Bread unbleached flour and followed the direction verbatim. Problem i have is that the crust is extremely hard and the inside is dense. There are plenty of big holes in the inside so i guess i’m doing something right. Any suggestions on these problems?

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