New Orleans French Bread

#RecipeUpTop (details to follow):

  • 1,000 grams bread flour;
  • 700 grams warm water;
  • 100 grams butter (or lard, or vegetable shortening);
  • 20 grams salt;
  • 10 grams yeast;

Method: Combine all ingredients and thoroughly knead until it passes the window pane test. Form into a ball and allow to rise until doubled in size (2-3 hours). Divide into two equal parts and shape into long French loaves, and move to parchment or silicon mat-lined baking sheets. Heat oven to 375F, and allow loaves to proof until they pass the finger-dent test (approx 40 minutes). Spray loaves with water, score vertically, and bake for forty (40) minutes. Move to a rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

The Details

It’s Mardi Gras! In this house, that means a New Orleans-themed dinner, which wouldn’t be complete without a few loaves of light, fluffy, buttery French bread for po’boys.

Let’s be honest: there’s nothing like the real thing. New Orleans French bread is… its own food group. It’s worth going to the city for that alone.

That said, this loaf does a good job of faking it, and provides the perfect landing pad for some fried seafood, shaved rare roast beef, or whatever else you may want to eat in giant-sandwich form.

OF NOTE: when I first published this recipe, I said vegetable oil is a fine substitute if you don’t want to deal with solid fat. I WAS WRONG. Veg oil will work fine, but your end product won’t be French bread. It will be closer to an Italian grocery loaf, with a much smaller, uniform texture:

Solid fat is on the left, veg oil on the right. It may not look like much, but this is like the difference between polyester and knitted wool.
A little more context. The loaves on the right taste great, don’t get me wrong, but the texture isn’t right for po’boys.

Step one: get all of your ingredients in a big mixing bowl and thoroughly combine. Then, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead the daylights out of it. You really need to develop the gluten here to get the lift we want later.

Yes, this dough will be sticky. At first. Much like our whole-oat sandwich bread, it’s high-hydration (70%) and has a good deal of fat (10%), which is solid versus liquid (like vegetable oil). Ultimately, that’s what will give us the texture we’re after, as opposed to a sausage bun, or a bagel.

Once your dough is kneaded sufficiently, form it into a ball and let it rise until doubled in size (two or three hours). Again, you don’t want to skimp on this first rise. We’re going for maximum fluff.

Step two: shape and proof. Turn your dough back out onto a floured surface and divide it in half (or into whatever portions you want; I’m making two loaves, but this would make great round bulky rolls). Shape into French-style loaves, and move to baking sheets lined with parchment or silicon mats, cover with kitchen towels, and allow to proof (or to rise a second time) for about forty (40) minutes, or until the gentle press of a finger leaves a dent.

Step three: score and bake. Get your oven to 375F, and SPRAY OR BRUSH THE TOPS OF THE LOAVES WITH WATER. This is incredibly important for the crust, which we want to be tender and flaky. If you baked these with a lot of steam, you’d get a hard baguette-style crust. If you baked them dry, you’d get a classic sandwich loaf style crust. The water spritz should give us that flaky goodness we’re after. From here, score with one big, vertical cut:

From here, move to racks and allow to cool completely before slicing. While they’re cooling, contemplate your evil plans for their demise.

3 thoughts on “New Orleans French Bread

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