As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a bread junkie. I absolutely love all of the fabulous rye and multigrain breads that are available here in Germany, but it’s not as easy to find a good, crusty French boule loaf (usually, the best you can find is a baguette). I’ve made lots of different kinds of bread before, but for some reason (probably because it was easily attainable at the time), I’d never attempted a French bread. Luckily, this fabulous, incredibly simple Le Creuset recipe that was featured on Simply So Good recently caught my eye on Pinterest, because it’s just too good to miss!
Like the bagels I posted about a week or so ago, I was initially skeptical when I read about how easy this recipe was supposed to be. There’s NO prepping the yeast. NO kneading. None! Just a quick mix, a night spent proofing on the counter, and a minute or two spent shaping the dough into a ball. That’s it! Could it possibly be that simple to re-create the fragrant, crusty boule loaves that I loved to buy at the French bakery years ago?
Simply put, yes! I was pleasantly surprised when my initial test loaf came out so much better than I ever anticipated. My house smelled like a French bakery, which was almost enough reason in and of itself to bake this bread! The crust is thick and crunchy, and the texture is the perfect density for a good boule. The experiment was a success, and life was good.
And then, I thought, “What about other flavors?…”
But I’m getting ahead of myself- let’s begin with the basics!
Basic Crusty Bread
- 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour (Bread flour seems to work fine, too- I ran out of all purpose last night, so I switched over for today’s dough)
- 1 3/4 teaspoons salt (I used kosher salt for most of the batches, but once again, I ran out and went to regular iodized, and it seems to be the same)
1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used regular Active Dry yeast)
1 1/2 cups water (The recipe doesn’t specify, but I went with lukewarm water, because that’s what other bread recipes have required)
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. The bowl needs to be large enough that it can accommodate rising dough.
- Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms- it doesn’t need to be pretty, just combined!
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours (overnight works great, and I found that the longer the dough proofed, the larger the finished loaf was).
- Heat oven to 450 degrees.
- When the oven has reached 450 degrees place an enameled cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes. (I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven for this, and it was perfect- I only wish that I had a big enough oven to fit two!)
- When the pot is safely in the oven, pour the dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball. (I found that it helped to scrape the dough out with a spatula- just enough to encourage it to let go. The dough will be sticky, so don’t be stingy with the flour on your hands and work surface!)
- Cover your dough ball with plastic wrap and let it set until the 30 minute pre-heat time is up.
- Remove the hot pot from the oven, remove the lid, and drop in the dough. Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes. (There’s no need to grease or oil the pot- the bread won’t stick!)
- After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes. (Because I was baking several loaves, I simply propped the lid next to the pot so that it didn’t cool off and require another pre-heat.)
- Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool. (This step is the hardest one in the entire recipe- waiting until the bread is fully cool before eating it is downright cruel and unusual!)
Now, wasn’t that just beautifully simple? Hard to believe that something so easy could produce something so very, very good! Of course, I couldn’t let it be too simple- remember those other flavors I mentioned earlier?…
Let’s Go Bouleing!
The following are just a few different flavor mixes that I’ve put together for this beautifully basic boule recipe. There are also some great suggestions on the Simply So Good blog (in the post AND in the many, many comments), and even that is just the beginning. The sky’s the limit, so go crazy, and please share your ideas and successes with the group!
A few rules of thumb:
- Unless you like your bread really chunky, aim for about a cup of mix-ins, give or take a bit.
- Add any non-liquid mix-ins (fruit, nuts, cheese, herbs, etc.) to the dry ingredients after you’ve whisked them together. Once added, whisk again to combine before adding liquid.
- Try to keep the amount of liquid about the same. If you add honey or a flavoring, subtract the same amount of water. (I may be totally off base, but I think it keeps the dough from getting too wet…)
- If you add a liquid, try to combine it with the water before adding to the dry ingredients.
- Some ingredients may add moisture when baked, so you may want to decrease the water slightly to compensate.
Mixed Berry and Lemon Zest Boule
This one was an instant hit with my youngest kids- they devoured it with butter and blueberry marmelade, and Nathan officially declared it ‘the bestest’! I also liked it with butter, but I can’t wait to try it in French toast later on…
Dry Mix-Ins: 1/4 cup each of Just Tomatoes dried strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; 1/4 cup craisins; the zest from one lemon
Wet Mix-Ins: One tablespoon of honey (subtract one tablespoon of water to compensate)
Prosciutto and Cracked Black Pepper Boule
This was one of my favorite flavors from Klinger’s Bread Company in South Burlington, VT, but I always wished that it came in a boule loaf rather than the very skinny baguette that they sell. It’s fabulous for grilled cheese sandwiches!
Dry Mix-Ins: 1 cup of chopped Prosciutto ham; 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground black pepper (I used the coarsest setting on my McCormick Black Peppercorn grinder)
Mixed Seed Boule
This bread could be done with any variety of seeds, including sunflower, pumpkin, flax, pine nuts, poppy, and sesame. I opted to use a pre-mixed salad blend of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts that I found at our local grocery store. If you would like to add seeds to the top of the loaf, simply sprinkle them on top of the shaped dough ball before you cover it with plastic to rest before putting it in the pot.
Dry Mix-Ins: 1 cup of assorted seeds with additional to top if desired
Apple Cinnamon Almond Boule
Apples. Almonds. Bread. Could it possibly be any better? This is yummy with butter and a bit of cinnamon sugar on top, but I’m also planning to try French toast with this bread. I actually caught myself standing next to the oven and sniffing the vents while this loaf baked, because the scent was absolutely phenomenal…
Dry Mix-Ins: 1 cup each of peeled, chopped apple (this was one average apple, I think either Jonagold or Braeburn), tossed with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar; 1/4 cup of sliced almonds
Wet Mix-Ins: One tablespoon of honey (subtract one tablespoon of water to compensate); 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract (I did NOT subtract water for this, but I leave it to your discretion…)
(Note: I sprinkled a bit of additional cinnamon sugar over the mixed dough, just for the heck of it. I’d planned to brush the top of the loaf with melted butter and sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar when I took it out of the oven, but forgot it in the pre-dinner rush. It’s great without it, but I think it would also be great with it if you’d like to give it a try!)
Once I’d established that this was a great, crusty bread recipe, I realized that it was just right for bread soup bowls! The full recipe is too big for an individual serving (although it would be great for dips), but by cutting the batch in half, you get a boule that’s just the right size for your favorite soup. To test the mechanics of the smaller loaf, I mixed up a double batch of the basic boule recipe:
When it was time to shape the loaves, I emptied the dough out onto my floured bowl and cut it into four portions that I then shaped into balls and covered as usual.
When you bake the mini loaves, you’ll give them the 30 minutes covered as usual. For the uncovered portion, I set the timer for 10 minutes and then kept an eye on them until they were the desired shade (usually about 10-12 minutes). I thought that I could manage to squeeze two mini boules into the pot at once, but I soon discovered that this just wouldn’t work. Unless you have a bigger pot or an oven big enough for two pots, you’ll have to bake them individually.
Still, time drain aside, I was very happy with the two mini boules I came out with in the end- they’ll be perfect for our Zuppa Toscana tonight at dinner!
This is just the beginning of my boule adventures, folks- there are still tons of flavor combinations that I want to test (chocolate chip is proofing as we speak, and I have plans for bacon and cheddar, sun dried tomatoes, Italian herb…), so my oven will definitely be busy. Please, come back and share any great new combinations that you create so that we can expand our repertoire together!