Le Pain Français du #BBA

FrenchBBA-SneakPicBonjour et salut à tous! La recette d’aujourd’hui est un pain français du livre «[easyazon-link asin=”1580082688″]The Bread Baker’s Apprentice[/easyazon-link]» par le boulanger célèbre, Monsieur Peter Reinhart.

And that’s all the French I’ll force you to suffer through for now. So yes, today is French Bread day in the BBA Challenge and dare I say, “it’s about time!”. Not because the other breads so far have been bad but because I’ve rather been looking forward to this one for a while.

Although my extended stay in Paris was a couple decades back, one of the very best things (although there were many) was being able to get up in the morning, go around the corner this way or down the street a bit that way, and hit a bakery to pick up a still warm fresh baguette, perhaps some almond croissants, then head back to the apartment and consume it with some strawberry jam and crème fraîche (yum!! Rather like Devonshire cream) along with a hot cup of coffee while looking out onto the bustle of Boulevard de Rochechouart.

This experience is simply not doable back here in North America as there aren’t bakeries in almost any neigbourhood and even when there happens to be one, it’s simply not a habit here to get bread for the meal and expect to go out again next time for the next loaf, warm off the shelf. No, we may pick up a loaf at the local grocery store that we don’t expect to get into for hours if not days, the quality simply isn’t the same in these factory-produced breads.

So getting to this particular loaf is giving me hope of getting a little bit of that ‘plaisir’ back, and maybe reliving a little bit of that Paris experience. You can probably tell I haven’t made this yet (I write the blog up halfway while waiting for things to proof or bake) so I don’t know how it will turn out.

Let’s get going and see, non?

As always, we start with the mis en place. Oh, yes I’ve been corrected, it’s actually spelled “mis” as opposed to “mise” although both words would work and it’s still pronounced “meez”. In fact, I’m told that in chef schools, it’s simply referred to as “the meez”.  Anyhoo…


Impressively simple, hm? We have a pâte fermentée at the top left which I built the day before. The ingredients in it and the process are exactly the same as what we’ll be using today. All we’ve done is build it and let it ferment in the fridge overnight in order to develop flavour. Today, we’ll repeat the process and add the fermented dough. The rest of the ingredients are bread flour and all purpose flour in equal amounts, water, salt and instant yeast.


We take the pâte out of the fridge an hour before we begin making the dough in order to let it warm up. We cut it in small pieces so it will be easier to mix into the dough. We can then start to mix up our dough.

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To our two types of flour we add the salt and yeast, stir and then add the water (saving 2 Tbsp). Mix until it’s incorporated, adding the extra water if the dough is too dry. In my case, it was so all the water went in. This happened the day before as well when I made the pâte. We then add the pâte chunks one at a time (no pics, sorry) and mix for a minute or two until well blended.

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We then switch to the dough hook and mix/knead for about 6 minutes until the dough is smooth. As an aside, making the same dough for the pâte yesterday, I kneaded it by hand and it was no problem, and easy dough to knead.

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At this point, the dough should be about 77ºF – ours is not. Perhaps the pâte was not warm enough. So I turn out the dough onto the lightly floured counter to give it a little hand kneading and hopefully warm it up a bit.

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I couldn’t help but notice the dough was also pretty sticky, when it eventually let go of my hand, I was still covered with dough. So I sprinkled a little more flour on the counter as I went along.

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After about four minutes of kneading, the dough had developed a little more and was becoming tacky instead of sticky. When I stretched it, it released my hand cleanly without leaving gobs of sticky dough behind. The dough was still tacky, not sticky. I checked the windowpane situation and we were good there too, the temp was 78º so everything was ready for the next steps.

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The dough is placed in a lightly greased bowl and left to double, which is supposed to take 2 hours. I set the alarm for 90 minutes and check the progress at that point.

Now I know I said in a previous post that you should let the dough tell you when it’s ready for the next stage, not the clock. Well here, Mr Reinhart is pretty specific that it should take two hours, and if the dough doubles before the two hours are up, to deflate it a bit and let it rise a little more. So that’s what I did.

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At the 90 minute point, the dough had expanded a bit more that double so i poked it gently to degas then set it to rise for the remaining 30 minutes at which point it came up to double again and we were ready for the next stage: shaping and proofing.

FrenchBBA15 I weighed the dough while it was still in the bowl, then carefully emptied the dough onto the counter, avoidig degassing as much as possible. Then I weighed the bowl empty. Taking the bowl weight away gave me the actual dough weight which I then divided into three or, in this case, about 315g each.

I gently sliced the dough ball into three pieces and weighed each, adding and removing little nubs until the were all approximately the same weight. It’s not 100% accurate but good enough!

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I prepared a couche on a baking pan and began the shaping of the loaves. Carefully avoiding degassing (again) the dough is gently stretched until it’s a size suitable for the pan or stone and oven, here about 15″. A divit is made in the dough which is then rolled and sealed. The rough log is given a little more stretch and gently rolled until it’s relatively even.


This shaped loaf is then transferred to the heavily rice-and-AP floured couche.

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The process is then repeated for the other two loaves, the couche is lifted between each so they don’t stick

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The couche is wrapped up and the loaves snuggled inside then the whole thing is put in a plastic bag and allowed to rise 45-75 minutes.

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After checking that the dough was risen enough via the “poke” method, next step is the slashing. Yet again, I’m reminded that I pretty much suck at this. But it’s probably better than my first few attempts way back when, though not by much.

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A generous sprinkling of fine cornmeal is laid out in the baking pan then, using an extremely expensive high tech device, I begin to transfer the loaves from the couche to the baking pan. The loaves get flipped upside down onto the board then right side up again in the pan.


Once all in the pan… I though “Dang! (or something similar) they’re gonna expand and get stuck together they’re so close already!” but there wasn’t much to be done about it at this point without possibly damaging the fragile loaves. So I decided, oh well, if they get stuck, I’ll just slice them apart again. So this is how they went into the oven, set at 500ºF.


I decided to not fire up the oven with the stones/tiles this time around because, well, I forgot to put them in on time. So the pan went in on a rack by itself.

In the bottom of the oven I had placed a stainless frypan which had heated up quite well. I had, at the ready, a cup of just boiled water and a spray bottle.

As soon as the loaves went into the oven, the cup of water went into the pan AFTER being sure to drape a dry dishtowel across the inside oven glass in case any water splashed – don’t want the oven glass shattering! That would seriously wreck the day’s baking.

Warning: When adding hot water to a very hot pan, you WILL get instant billowing clouds of very hot steam. KEEP YOUR FACE WELL AWAY and be sure your hand has an oven mitt on!!

After the billowing cloud of steam dissipates, shut the oven door and let the steamy oven do it’s thing for 30 seconds, then grab your water spray bottle. BE CAREFUL HERE: Open the oven door after the 30 seconds, being cautious that this oven is full of steam. Do not stand directly over the oven door, take a step back and let the steam rise from a safe distance. Now spray your water onto your oven walls to get more instant steam.

When spraying cool water into your hot oven, be careful to NOT SPRAY YOUR OVEN BULB OR ANYWHERE NEAR IT (bounced water); it can shatter and you’ll have glass bits all over your bread. (Don’t ask how I know this.)

Ok, after another 30 seconds of letting this steam wander around the oven, open the door again (same cautions about billowing steam) and repeat the spraying. Do it a third time another 30 seconds later. OK, that’s done.

Now turn the oven down to 450º and let the bread bake for 10 minutes.


At the ten minute point, give the loaves a 180º spin (I’ve taken them out here to take a photo, you can leave them in the oven). Now give the loaves another 10-20 minutes more until they reach 205ºF inside and are a lovely golden brown.

And this is what I managed to make:

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Not too darn bad!! Now they did go on a cooling rack for about 30-40 minutes after coming out of the oven.

Here’s the official glam shot:


With dinner getting prepped, I got the Crumb Shot as the bread was heading for the table.


So, what’s the verdict?

The bread is delicious, it has a very nice flavour. The golden crust had a nice nutty taste without being too pronounced, although it is a little thick; not sure how I will make it thinner and more crispy, less chewy next time. The crumb is not as fluffy as I would have liked, it was a little dense. Perhaps it needs to be a wetter, stickier dough to get more open holes.

But overall, entirely enjoyable. Another “will be making it again” recipe.

Next time, we hop over the border and make Italian bread! But in the meantime, bake it up in French and, as Julia Child oft said at the close of her show: Bon Appetit!

13 Replies to “Le Pain Français du #BBA”

  1. EXCELLENT post!! Love the photos of the sticky vs. tacky dough! This will definitely be a great resource for those of us coming up behind you! Thanks, Paul!

  2. Thanks for the indepth description of the process. I am debating whether I’m going to make this before or after my vacation.

  3. I too am looking forward to this bread. Mostly because it gives me a chance to use the couche which I have to say I am actually excited to say I own.

    Wonderful write up and as a virgin baker the hardest part was determining the difference between sticky and tacky. Finally I have figured it all out.

  4. Amazing photos. Love the in-depth explanation, as always. And your loaves? They look fantastic.

    I’m having so much trouble with this bread currently…

  5. Paul, I’m following your blog with enormous interest. (Am currently at end day 10 of my pineapple juice assisted starter and must say that thus far everything is going as per your text and pics.)

    I wonder whether you can throw some light on a couple of things for me? In your Pain Français, I can find no mention of how you assembled your pâte fermentée or the pains themselves – ie, the components rather than the assembly instructions. Have I missed something by coming into this thread and your blog so recently?

    Had my first attempt at making a seeded light rye this evening. Too soon to cut it yet, so can’t say what it’s like. I don’t hold out too much hope – it was more an exercise in using up some odds and ends than anything else.


    1. Hi Sojourner,

      No, you’re not missing something, it really is not there on purpose. 😉

      I don’t get into the recipe details (except here and there in very vague terms) in the breads from BBA since the BBA Challenge is to do the entire book, all 43 recipes. As a group it’s been agreed to not include the recipes themselves in everyone’s blogs since it would, in effect, make the book itself pointless if all the recipes ended up being posted online. Since this is somewhat of an homage to Mr Reinhart, that would be a pretty bad move on our part. So the best I would do is point you to your local library, bookstore or Amazon.fr to grab a copy of the book. It is, as a piece, soooo much more than just a collection of recipes, there’s a ton of extra info in it that makes it very much worthwhile to get.

      How’s your starter doing then? Erm… I guess that topic should really go into one of the Starter post, actually. So pop in there and give an account of how you’ve done making your own starter with pineapple juice.

      And merçi bien for joining in the discussion! I look forward to more!

  6. That was a fantastic post. So instructive. Wish I’d taken the time to study it before I made my baguettes! Your photos are lovely. The baguettes look pretty amazing. I have slash envy!!

  7. I loved making this bread and I’m making it again tonight. I would have liked to have more large holes inside. Also I will add a bit more salt, was not as salty as I like my bread to be. Will add more water tomorrow and see if I get get those holes. Great post. I have to say that I was afraid the first time I did spray the walls with the water.

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