K Cooks…..Julia Child’s French Bread Recipe

For the past month or so, anytime I found myself frustrated, exhausted or a bit uncomfortable, I ran away from the discomfort and into the arms of Julia Child. A tad bit obsessive, I scoured old re-runs on utube. I bought The Way to Cook, I trolled the internet for recipes, pondered lamb and coq au vin, and proceeded to plan, dream, hope for our cooking club later this month centered around JULIA recipes. I read Julie Powell’s second book (CLEAVING) and kept thinking over and over about how I want to EXPLORE more. On my travels and on my centered life. So…on my first free Sunday (meaning I would be home for the majority of the day) I planned a series of home projects (cleaning closets! clearing out drawers! Packages!) . And at the center of my day was preparing the 9 HOUR! (yes! up at 6:30 and the bread was consumed at 4 or so) making of her bread.

One Caveat…I got the dough from my co-worker who lives in France (about 40 minutes away) and she picked up a bio flour that turned out to be WHOLE WHEAT. I am sure the next time I do this project, the result may be a bit different due to different gluten levels. French bakers make plain French bread out of unbleached flour that has gluten strength of 8 to 9 per cent. Most American all-purpose flour is bleached and has slightly higher gluten content as well as being slightly finer in texture. It is easier to make bread with French flour than with American flour.

Here is what I did….every recipe is an adaption, but I used

Pain Francais (French Bread)

(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck)

Recipe Quantity: 3 – batards (16␣ x 3␣ )

Recipe Time: 7 ␣ 9 hours


1 package dry active yeast 1/3 cup (75ml) warm water, not over 100 degrees F/38C in a glass measure

3 1/2 cup (about 1 lb) (490 gr) all purpose flour, measured by scooping dry measure cups into flour and sweeping off excess

2 1/4 tsp (12 gr) salt

1 1/4 cups (280 – 300ml) tepid water @ 70 ␣ 74 degrees/21 – 23C

Stir the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.

Using the dough hook attachment on Ruby, I created the dough on LOW speed. At first, it was very sticky. I probably added more than 1/4 C of flour for 10 minutes before a dough ball was formed. I made the ball, lifted it off the hook, let it set for 2 minutes, then on low again, kneaded the dough for about 5 minutes….I made sure it was SPRINGY (meaning it came up when pinched and then sprung back). 

Then I took the dough out and gently hand kneaded it for another 2 minutes until it was a bit glossy. This was the signal that it was READY TO RISE. I filled a bowl with 10 1/2 cups of water (Julia says that since we have 3 cups of dough, we are aiming to get it to TRIPLE, which means producing more then 10 cups of risen dough) to measure out how much I wanted it to rise. After marking the goal line, I watered the plants with the water and dried the bowl and placed it on top of a heater (you want a warm area, around 70 degrees…otherwise the time will increase to about 11 hours) This process took 45 minutes to get to…

The dough rose for 3 HOURS! (meanwhile I squeezed in a 10 mile jog and cleaned out my kitchen drawers and wrote for a bit). Then I deflated it down by folding it in half like flipping it over itself side by side.  The deflation will release the yeast engendered gases and redistribute the yeast cells so that the dough will rise again and continue the fermentation process. The second rising lasted for about 100 minutes….

Then! I was ready to shape. I used Julia’s method. After you take it out of the bowl, you fold it over on itself and let rest for about 5 minutes. Then, you cut the dough into thirds. Keeping those that you aren’t using in plastic, you form a ball out of one.  Then I took the dough in half lengthwise by bringing the far edge down over the near edge. I sealed the dough together, in order to make sure not to break the lightly coagulated gluten cloak that was forming. Then, I formed a little trench (watch the video! It was so FUN! for me). Forming actually occurred fairly quickly. Fold it again lengthwise, and then rolled the dough so the seal was on the bottom. I kinda of rolled it back and forth until it was the length of my pizza stone …and then repeated it three times, covered it with plastic, and then covered with a tea towel and let it rise for almost 2 hours!

HERE’s the TRICKY PART! Getting the dough from its resting place to the pizza stone. I (poorly) tried a large offset spatula. Really what I needed was one of those baker’s paddles. The dough immediately puckered a bit and attempted to spread itself a bit out (NOT a good thing! you want height, not width!). But, this IS THE SPECIAL K TREATMENT, and fear of failure has no place here. I love this Julia lecture about 3 minutes 45 seconds in about “I shall overcome!” so I went ahead with it. Whole Wheat flour? Blobby loafs after 7 hours of effort? No way was I getting mopey…So, HERE’s the FUN PART. Slashing the dough….making gashes releases the covering cloak of gluten and allows a bulge of dough underneath to swell up through the cuts during the first 10 minutes of baking.


The ovens used in bakeries are so constructed that one slides the formed bread dough from a wooden panel right onto the hot, fire-brick oven floor, a steam injection system humidifies the oven for the first few minutes of baking. Steam allows the yeast to work a little longer in the dough and this, combined with the hot baking surface, produced an extra push of volume. In addition, steam coagulating the starch on the surface of the dough gives the crust its characteristic brown color. Although you can produce a good loaf of French bread without steam or a hot baking surface, you will a larger and handsomer loaf when you simulate professional conditions.

What I did…I placed a pan with ice at the bottom of the stove, and then at 3 minutes, 6 minutes, 9 minutes, took a spray bottle and sprayed the loaves and then the pan, releasing a hiss of steam. The loaves then set in the oven for another 17 minutes.

HERE’s the HARD PART. Wait…another 90-120 minutes. I put the loaves upright in Ruby so that air can circulate freely around each piece. It is, says Julia, much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself.

Okay, so here is a bread I made from regular dough in ruby. It took about 15 minutes to form the dough, 90 minutes to rise, 10 to form, 45 to rise and 22 to bake  and 30 minutes to cool (about 3 hours).

I love Julia, but this was tedious work. And the result? Honestly, I liked the fluff of the white one a big better and the whole wheat did not have that crispyness I was going after with the steam. However…maybe the next time I make bread I will use the method of steam again and see if I can get it a bit closer to Julia’s. She herself went through 284 POUNDs of flour before perfecting it.

But, an occasion it is, this birthday month! So me and my “family” out here had baked brie, caviar, 

bread, and some homemade avocado stuffed wontons I made…plus! A superb triple sec blood orange creme pudding with graham cracker base.

Oh! All wonderful when shared.

Super complicated, but nourishing in the sense that I honored Julia….and that I get to take another stab at it next weekend…(after my half marathon, maybe? Hoping to break 2 hours!)


5 thoughts on “K Cooks…..Julia Child’s French Bread Recipe

  1. Interesting about the gluten content…that may be why I can ingest loaves in Paris but here in LA? Not so much.

    You are a superstar my friend…to make bread this amazing is quite a feat. Love your many talents!

  2. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and
    wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

  3. Pingback: Best Chocolate Cake…fit for a queen | The Special K Treatment

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