Hello, everybody! For a long time, I've been trying to perfect the "boule", a French bread that's traditionally baked in a round cast iron dutch oven. I've tried it many ways, with several different recipes and I could NOT get it quite the way I remembered it in France. It can be made from any type of flour, with any kind of leavening, but it has a certain crusty exterior. And it MUST be shaped in a sort of squashed ball.
The shape is also the reason a bread maker is called a "boulanger" and a bakery is called a "boulangerie". It's sort of the most basic of French breads and as I said before, I could not for the life of me recreate it in my own oven. I read a lot of recipes that said the trick was "proofing ovens" or pizza stones or organic rye flour or a starter in the fridge for ten days or.... I'd just decided it wasn't one of those things I was going to be able to make on a whim.
Then my friend Cassey gave me some truffle oil and I wished with all my heart I had some simple crusty bread to drizzle it on. My fourteen year old makes a great French loaf, but it's got that sourdough/nutty taste that comes from the sweet fermentation and I wanted the simple salt bread. But when I mentioned this to another friend of mine (ok, so I was whimpering and wringing my hands), she said that she'd never had a problem with les boules, and we had almost the same oven, and lived in similar climates. I decided to give it one more try, following her instructions. .
3 cups warm water
1 TBS salt
1 TBS yeast
6 1/2 cups flour
extra flour for the top
Mix the water, yeast and salt together. No need to let it sit for several minutes. Just stir together. Mix in the flour. Let it rise for several hours in a warm spot. Now, at this point you can put it in the fridge for several days, up to two weeks. I actually did put it in the fridge because we ended up going in a different direction for dinner (read: everyone was hungry so we ate).
But the next day, I knew it was time to try for the perfect boule. You can make a large loaf, or several small ones. Since I'd tried larger loaves before without much success, I decided to try smaller versions with a loose foil "oven" wrapped around them.
The secret to a good boule is NOT to knead or express any of the the gas. Gently take a grapefruit sized ball of dough, stretch the outside and tuck it under, keeping it in a ball shape but keeping the top very smooth. I don't have a picture at the point, but let it rest for another few hours in a warm spot. Right before putting it in the oven, sprinkle with flour and make three vertical slits in the top.
Preheat Oven to 450F and bake for 40 minutes.
At 20 minutes, remove the top of the foil. This gives the entire roll a very crispy crust, but the bottom is the crispiest. The American roll is prized for being very soft, but the French love their crusty bread. All the better to soak up sauces!
After removing from the oven, let the bread cool for another two hours. (NO KIDDING. Just when you think you get to crack into it... nope. It will continue to cook and the inside will be set by the time you cut it. No gummy, dense dough inside)
So, if you've always wanted an easy, fool proof boule recipe, this is the one! You can always make up the dough for any time during the week, even cooking them one or two at a time.
Until next time! Feel free to stop by my facebook page at Mary Jane Hathaway, my blog at The Things That Last, or my posts at Huffington Post Books.