In the final of three posts about making French Bread, we’re going to shape and bake. If you’re only going to watch one set of the videos from the lot, these would be the ones I suggest you spend your time watching.
Shaping and Baking
A step you may not be familiar with in bread making is pre-shaping. The idea is you get the bread into a rough approximation to the final shape. Here, I’ve got two squat sausage shapes as we are going to be making batards, the squatter version of the baguette. When working with such a high hydration dough (look how soft and light it looks), the extra step of pre-shaping builds up strength and form. You’ll see a “whorl” in the finished bread from the way we shape it. Note at no point do I knock back the dough and get rid of all the carbon dioxide built up by the yeast in the 2 hour bulk prove. Use gentle, tender hands to handle your dough. It’s glorious to feel the dough!
Excuse the sound of the washing machine in the background – noob videographer here didn’t think the camera would pick that one up… 😉
After a brief resting period, it’s time to create the final shape. I’d space them a bit further apart than I have so they don’t stick together (I was being frugal with the cling film!). Again, have a light touch – indeed, can you see the bubbles and hear them squelch and pop as I seal the seams on the batards undersurface? See how much the pre-shaping has helped with the form and despite such a brief rest and recovery of the dough, it is lively and rising well. Good books on pre-shaping and shaping include Brilliant Bread by James Morton and The Larousse Book of Bread: Recipes to Make at Home.
If I were you, I’d make you batards a little fatter than I have here but it doesn’t matter too much. Also, mixing some fine milled polenta or cornmeal with a little bread flour is excellent for dusting your tea towel to prove your bread on – you get no stickage at all with an even coverage. The idea of proving seam side up is that when you use the cloth to flip your dough onto the baking sheet right way up for scoring and baking. Put them close together to support each other to grow up tall rather than spread out sideways (although they shouldn’t thanks to the careful way we have shaped them).
Now for the scary bit – flipping the ready to bake batards onto a baking sheet for baking! In a professional bakery, you’d flip the onto a peel then shunt them into the preheated oven but at home, I flip mine onto an upturned baking tray lined with a silicone baking sheet coated with more flour and polenta. It’s insurance really – I have a second baking sheet in the oven preheating as hot as it will go and once I’ve turned the bread right way up and scored it, I quickly and confidently pull the silicone liner onto the hot baking tray and get the door shut fast. Use oven mitts to protect your hands and arms. The loaves will be full of air but with a confident hand, you shouldn’t be scared of moving them. It’s only when I hesitate and faff that I flatten them and end up with really misshapen loaves!
As for the scoring – if all you have is a serrated bread knife, know that that will more than do. I bought a mini serrated knife and a razor blade lame for less than £5 for both from my local bakery – go ask if yours will sell you one if you fancy having a go with one. And again, be confident! Score nice and deep, even deeper than what I did here (in my defence I was in the throws of a dose of Man ‘Flu courtesy of Hungry Hubby when I made these and my technique was a little wobbly in places – and fear not, I scrubbed my hands frequently between shots to keep the germs away!). If you don’t score bread, it will bake unevenly and it will impede the oven spring (amount it rises in the oven upon baking).
Pale golden brown and ‘singing’ as you bring them out of the oven (releasing gas as they bake), they will be delicate so don’t move them for ten minutes or so. If you have a glass oven door, you will be able to watch them rise as they bake, almost immediately after they hit the hot baking tray. Preheating the oven with a tray of water in the bottom creates steam so you don’t get a tight crust and the inside of the loaves will be moist, soft and open textured with medium-large air bubbles.
Et voila, you have successfully baked two beautiful batards! Well done on making it this far, it certainly was a marathon of a recipe to write, video and make but I hope you’ll agree the effort is more than worth it.
Please leave me a comment, tweet me, Facebook me or email me even with questions, comments or snaps of your bread. I hope you’ve enjoyed this extra special post – I’ll be back with a significantly shorter and faster recipe later in the week x
- Pinch of dried yeast
- 200 g strong bread flour
- 200 g cold water
- 400 g strong bread flour
- 6 g sea salt
- 2 g dried yeast
- 200 g cold water
- Oil/oil spray to grease with
- Extra bread flour and a couple of tbsp of semolina or polenta to dust with
- You will also need a clean smooth cotton tea towel or "couche"
- A dough scraper is helpful but a spatula will do
- A "lame" bread scorer, razor blade or small sharp serrated knife to score with
Make the poolish by mixing all three ingredients together until a soft dough is formed then cover with cling film and leave for 24 hours in an ambient temperature room.
The next day, put all the dough ingredients into a large bowl and scrape in the poolish which should be well risen, foamy and bubbly (aka nice and active).
Mix with a spatula or dough scraper until you form a "shaggy mess". Cover with cling then leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Now you need to do 4 "ten second kneads" with 10 minutes resting time in between. Check out the videos if you are unfamiliar with the technique. Simply grease your hands lightly then pull out the dough starting at one side and working around, doing ten pulls, returning the dough to the centre each time. It will be very tight the first knead and get looser each time you knead the dough.
When all 4 kneads completed, grease your bowl and dough then cover with cling and leave to rest for 2 hours.
Now comes the shaping. Divide the dough into two. There's no need and if anything, it is undesirable to knock the air out so handle the dough gently. On a lightly floured surface at out to a rough square then fold in opposite sides to the middle. Take one of the now thin ends and roll up to a loose sausage shape, seam side down. Repeat with all dough portions. This is "pre-shaping". Cover with cling and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Heavily dust your tea towel with flour and sprinkle over the semolina or polenta (it is an excellent insurance against sticking!).
Working with one piece of dough at a time place on a lightly floured surface, seam side up and short side facing you. Refer to the videos for more help here. Take one side of the dough and start folding it in from the end nearest you all the way up to the top, pressing down to seal it in the centre as you go. Spin it 180˚ and repeat on the opposite side - you should have a flat wide sausage shape with a seam in the middle. Now, essentially flop one half of the dough over the other, using the heal of your hand to seal it tightly, pinching with your fingers if needed to ensure it is sealed. The ends will be pointy and the batard shape will be more apparent - gently roll a few times with light pressure from the centre out to the very tips and stop. Pinch to seal any bits which have opened on the seam and transfer onto the floured tea towel, seam side UP. Leave 3-4 inches between the shaped breads and repeat for the remaining portions.
Once all the bread is shaped, sprinkle with more flour then pull the tea towel up between each shaped dough portion and fold the tea towel over gently to cover. Use a second one or the leftover cling film to cover the ends if it is not big enough to cover the shaped breads.
Preheat the oven to 250˚C (which essentially means as hot as it goes in domestic ovens) with the shelf positioned low down in the oven and a tray of water beneath it to create steam. Place a flat oven tray on the shelf to preheat with the oven.
Leave the dough to prove for 60-80 minutes then when ready, uncover the dough and this is where I like to flour a reusable silicone baking sheet dusted with flour and polenta then flip the dough GENTLY on to it, seam side DOWN and transfer on another baking sheet to the one which is smoking hot in the oven by now. STAND BACK when you have steamed your oven when opening the door so not to burn your face and once the bread is in, close the door gently and turn the oven down to 220˚C.
Bake for 30-40 for batards. Transfer to a rack to cool before serving.
Do watch the videos for each stage before you start - all of this is much easier to see than say!
Working with lightly greased hands and lightly floured worktops is to be encouraged.
At no stage do you "knock the air out" of the dough - work with light hands and a tender touch.