French Lean Bread - Modernist Cuisine

French Lean Bread

Recipe • July 12, 2018

You need just four ingredients to make French lean breads: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Simple, right? That’s why we recommend lean breads as a good starting place for new bakers. The baguette is not only a loaf by which many bakers are measured, it is also the quintessential example of French lean bread. Although the word “baguette” has a number of meanings (including a stick or concertmaster’s baton), surly its most common meaning is this long, slender loaf. One of its distinctions is the crispy crust achieved by incorporating steam in the baking process.

The master French Lean Bread recipe from Modernist Bread is made with commercial yeast rather than levain. We use commercial yeast to make a preferment called a poolish, which imparts a slightly tangy flavor and a nice finished appearance to the bread. The dough is versatile enough to work when formed into boules, bâtards, baguettes, and other shapes. The best examples of French lean breads have a crusty exterior, a light yellow–beige crumb that yields to the teeth, a mild flavor that goes with nearly everything, and an aroma that will make you want to inhale deeply through your nose.

-Adapted from Modernist Bread


Tips and Substitutions

  • Most home ovens are too small for baking a baguette or epi. Our remedy for this situation is simply to roll out the dough to a shorter length, approximately 30 cm / 12 in. For the same reason, we do not recommend baking a miche-sized loaf (2 kg) in a home oven.
  • For breads that are baked with a lid in a home oven, remove the lid during venting.
  • If mixing by hand and your dough starts to get too bubbly and gassy during bulk fermentation and the gluten has not yet fully developed after the final fold, refrigerate the dough in its tub for the remainder of the bulk fermentation. As the dough cools, fermentation will slow down.
  • Alternatively, you can cold-proof the dough in the refrigerator (4 °C / 40 °F). For 50–250 g pieces, cold-proof for 2 h. For 350–500 g pieces, cold-proof for 2½–3 h. For 1–2 kg doughs, cold-proof for 3½–4 h (or longer if desired).
  • Your proofing setup could include a wooden board lined with a lightly floured couche or the back of a sheet pan lined with a floured kitchen towel, a floured banneton, or lightly floured linen-lined wicker baskets. If you’re proofing at room temperature, place the dough in an enclosed environment, such as a plastic tub with a lid or a clean cardboard box. Alternatively, try our method for using a clean plastic bag to prevent the skin of the dough from drying out. If you’re using a proofer, leave the dough uncovered and set the relative humidity to 65%.
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