French-Style Country Bread

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French-Style Country Bread

star rating (106) rate this recipe »
Published prior to 2008

You could make this bread, and no other, for the rest of your baking career, and never feel cheated. It uses the sponge, or poolish, method: sort of a poor man's or woman's sourdough starter -- no feedings, little pre-planning, lots of flexibility and superb bread. I usually make this dough, sponge starter and all, in the bread machine, but you can do it by hand, processor, or stand mixer. After barbecue season, bake this bread in the conventional oven but atomize it with water to get that crisp crust. If you've always wanted crusty, hole-ridden, French-style bread, this is the ticket.

Sponge Starter (Begin 2 to 16 hours ahead)
1 cup (8 ounces) cool to lukewarm water (90 to 100°F)
1/2 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast
1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1/4 cup (1 ounce) King Arthur White Whole Wheat or Traditional Whole Wheat Flour

Dough
All of the sponge starter (above)
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water, preferably spring water (l00 to 115°F)
3/4 teaspoon active dry or 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 3/4 to 4 cups (1 pound to 1 pound 1 ounce) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

To Make The Sponge: Stir all of the sponge ingredients together to make a thick, pudding-like mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on a counter overnight or for at least 2 to 4 hours. If you're making this in a bread machine, place the sponge ingredients inside, and turn the machine on for just a few seconds to mix the ingredients together. Turn the machine off and close the cover. Let the sponge rest for 4 hours or overnight (anywhere between 2 and 16 hours is fine, the longer the better).

To Make The Dough: Stir down the sponge with a spoon and add the water, yeast, sugar, most of the flour (hold back about 1/2 cup to use if required), and salt. Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary, to make a soft dough, 10 to 12 minutes.

Note: You may also do this in your bread machine, using the Dough or Manual setting. After the dough has finished kneading, place it in a lightly greased bowl, and continue as directed below.

Big Tip: Mix ingredients together using up to 80% of the flour called for: it will be a loose, messy mass. Let the dough rest for 12 minutes, and you'll see it change in texture, to be come much smoother. Continue, kneading and adding additional flour as required. Overall, the dough handles better once its had time for the flour to absorb the water while resting and relaxing. By using this method, you'll tend to add less flour, and have much bigger holes in your finished bread.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or plastic container, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and a damp towel, and let it rise until almost doubled (depending on the weather, this could be l to 2 hours). If you're going out, or if you prefer, let the dough rise slowly in the fridge. If your dough has been refrigerated, allow it to come to room temperature; it'll warm up and rise at the same time. After its first rise, deflate the dough gently, but don't knock out all the air; this will create those "holes" so important to French bread. Form the dough into a round ball. Place two cookie sheets atop one another, and place a semolina- or cornmeal-dusted piece of parchment paper on top. Gently place the ball of dough on the cookie sheets, seam-side down. Cover it lightly with a tea towel, and let it rise the second time until it's puffy and about 40% to 50% larger, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes (depending on the weather, luck, and magic). Slash or cross-hatch the bread with a sharp knife or lame. Dust it with a little flour.

Preheat your grill to High. Place the bread (on the doubled-up cookie sheets) on the grill, and close the cover. Immediately reduce the heat to Medium (400°F), and allow the bread to bake for 25 minutes, or until it's well-browned. Reduce the heat to Low, and carefully place the bread directly on the grill. Continue to bake until completely done, about 5 minutes.

For Regular (Oven) Baking: Preheat the oven to 475°F. Slash the bread, spritz water into the oven with a clean plant mister, and place the bread in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425°F and spritz with water every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking. Bake the bread for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until it tests done. Yield: 1 large round bread or two medium breads, 10 to 12 servings.

Nutrition information per serving (1 hearty slice, 1/12 of recipe, 97g): 180 cal, .5g fat, 6g protein, 38g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 2g dietary fiber, 534mg sodium, 74mg potassium, 2mg iron, 89mg calcium, 56mg phosphorus.

Reviews

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  • star rating 04/25/2015
  • from
  • Really good I used a cast iron griddle on the grill for the first 20 min then went to just the bread on the grill for 5 min it was perfect. It disappeared in two days so I need to make more.
  • star rating 04/23/2015
  • mrmoran from KAF Community
  • I suspect you're right, KAF -- I'll make this bread regularly. Thanks to the Baker's Hotline for helping me navigate when the dough rose so spectacularly in the fridge! I folded, per your recommendation, and it rose (but didn't over-rise) beautifully at room temp. More importantly, it tastes wonderful -- just the right side of tangy. Wonderful bread!
  • star rating 04/23/2015
  • mrschewie219 from northern indiana
  • This bread baked up great for me. I am experienced in bread baking and appreciated the simple, straightforward approach. Especially for home use. It is great for beginners and pros alike. I did my final proof in a banneton basket. Unfortunately, my husband accidentally smacked the proofing loaf right before I was going to put it in the oven. I let it rise another half hour, although it did not rise nearly as high as it did before being deflated. Since I used the banneton basket and had a lovely spiral pattern I did not spray the loaf with water, I put a small pan of hot water on the bottom rack of my oven. I had a nice thick, crisp crust and plenty of small bubbles. I think the bubbles would have been a bit larger if the loaf hadn't been deflated. I will surely try this recipe again as it was a satisfying, chewy loaf that goes great with butter and toasted and served with butter and jam the next few days. Caramelized Vidallia Onion Marmalade is even amazing on stale crust scraps.
  • star rating 04/19/2015
  • Art from Columbus, OH
  • I liked this bread but I was hoping it would toast better. Like so many French breads, this turns hard in the toaster becomes powdery dry when you take a bite. I've been trying to find a way to make this that would maintain more chew when toasted. Anyone have an idea?
    Art,you might consider venturing into the realm of sourdough breads, which tend to last longer and often have a moister crumb. Barb@KAF
  • 04/12/2015
  • ??? from
  • Can I use my stand mixer?
    Yes, stand mixers are fine to use for the mixing and kneading
  • star rating 04/10/2015
  • Sunshine from Salt Lake City
  • Unbelievable! Made this with my 9 year old grandaughter, and she did most of the work. Did follow religiously the "big tip" and it was worth it. This was the best loaf of bread I (we :-)) have ever made. While I am a skilled bread baker, she had never made any. And she participated in every step but spraying the oven with water -- for which I used a 2 teaspoon toddler medicine "squirter", and did it every minute for the first 10. Plus every two minutes for the next 5.
  • star rating 04/03/2015
  • mrschewie219 from indiana
  • I started the poolish last night and made the bread this afternoon. I made one large oval shaped loaf with a few slashes over the top and it baked up beautifully. Didn't get as big of bubbles as I hoped to, but the soft and chewy interior is lovely anyway. I got a nice crust by misting the loaf a few times in the beginning of baking and by having a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven. My loaf baked up tall enough to get big, long slices for some Panini sandwiches. I admit that I was a bit distracted during the measuring process and ended up using a bit too much water, on an already humid day, and therefore had to add more flour than I'd have liked. Followed the tip of letting the dough rest with only 80% of the flour in it, so I think that helped give me any bubbles at all. I did not find the flavor to be "yeasty" or under salted(using the 1 1/2 tsp of salt). In fact, I keep going back for little slices with butter, sea salt, and pepper. Can't wait to make a small bread pudding when the ends go stale. Overall, give this recipe a try if you are looking for a dense, chewy bread with a crisp crust. It is excellent sandwich bread, make two loaves if you're on your own, as they can be huge as a single loaf. I think I will try adding a little extra sugar next time, as a personal preference.
  • star rating 03/26/2015
  • LindsayBakes from KAF Community
  • So good and easy! I live in Colorado at 6000 ft and this bread turned out amazingly well. This is a new staple in my bread library.
  • star rating 03/23/2015
  • Harold from Canada
  • Did not have whole wheat flour so I used ground flax tablespoon .baked it in a dutch oven with lid on then removed it .turned out great.
  • 03/23/2015
  • Harold from Canada
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