Whole Wheat French Bread

by Jennifer

This recipe comes from Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein, which is filled with fantastic recipes for all kinds of breads.  I feel incredibly fortunate to own a standing mixer, but I remember well back to the days when I had to knead dough by hand.  Not too bad, especially if I had someone to talk to or good music to listen to, but I’m loving not having to knead anymore!  Whether or not you own a standing mixer, this bread is not difficult to make and is wonderful to eat.  The ingredients are for a standing mixer, and make 3 loaves (freeze 1 or 2 for later), but in parentheses are the ingredient amounts for kneading by hand, which will make 2 loaves.  The method is the same either way.

Sponge

  • 3 cups warm water (2 cups)
  • 2 heaping TBS yeast (1 1/2 TBS)
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour (3 cups)

Dough

  • 3 1/2 – 4 cups whole wheat flour (2 – 3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 TBS salt (1 TBS)
  • Cornmeal for dusting baking sheet

To make the sponge:  In a large bowl, standing mixer bowl or otherwise, combine water and yeast and allow a few minutes for the mixture to become foamy.  Add the bread flour and stir until mixture is smooth.

Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free space (I turn my oven on for a minute or two, then turn it off and place the bowl in there) until doubled, about 45 – 60 minutes.

To make the dough:  Punch down the sponge either by stirring it or with the mixer blade on first speed.  Add the whole wheat flour, starting with 3 1/2 (2) cups, and the salt, and mix until the dough to is too stiff to mix, or until the dough starts climbing up the mixer blade.

For the latter, scrape off and change to the dough hook, and knead for 10 minutes, adding additional flour if necessary (better not to add more flour if it’s not too sticky);  alternatively, knead by hand for 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking too much to your hands.

Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Punch down the dough:  gently press down until the dough deflates, and gently knead once or twice inside the bowl.  Re-cover and allow to rise again, another 30 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and divide into 3 (2) portions.  Using your hands or a rolling pin, press each portion into a long flat rectangular.  Starting with the long side away from you, roll the dough towards you, like a jelly-roll, pressing down as you roll, so you have a long, tight, baguette shape.

Transfer to a cornmeal-dusted (or parchment paper covered) baking sheet;  repeat with remaining dough.  Cover and allow to rise one more time, about 30 – 45 minutes.  While the dough is in its last rise, preheat the oven to 475, with a metal brownie pan (or something similar) on the lowest rack.

Brush the loaves with water, and slash the loaves at regular intervals at about a 20 degree angle.  Drop 6 – 8 ice cubes into the metal pan (this tries to simulate the steam injection of professional bakers’ ovens), then place the loaves in the oven and bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until they are golden brown and the crust feels hard when you gently squeeze it.  Cool for as long as you can keep yourself from tearing into them!

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