Since our soaked grain adventure began a few months ago, the one bread I have missed more than any is French bread. Unable to find any recipe on-line that used authentic cooking methods for this type of bread which included soaking the grain, I decided to try to convert a basic recipe found on Famous French Desserts.
Understanding that whole wheat creates a softer texture than white flour, I did not expect the loaf to have the same crunch to the exterior nor the same airy interior of French bread made with white flour. However, as much as we want to eat food that is good for us, it has to taste good too. This recipe accomplished both goals, so I was very pleased with the results. I used half hard white winter wheat and half Kamut flour for this recipe, although I did note that you can use King Arthur White Whole Wheat if you do not have a grain mill.
Baking the bread with a pan of water to replicate the steam ovens used in French baking helped to create a crust that had pull and is pleasantly chewy. The interior was soft with a mild wheat flavor that yielded to the bright green tang of the extra-virgin olive oil we used for dipping. Garlic bread, bruschetta, rosemary bread for warm brie, all come from a basic French loaf and I look forward to these delights once again—a healthier version that not only tastes good, but is good for us.
Whole Wheat French Bread
(Soaked Method) Yields 2 loaves
4 cups freshly milled flour -or-
King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. kefir or whey
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. dough conditioner
1 tbsp. wheat gluten
1 tbsp. active yeast
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups warm water
1. In a bowl, mix together 4 cups of whole wheat flour, 1 3/4 cups water, olive oil, and kefir until flour is moistened. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot (above 70°), or in the oven with the oven light on. Allow to soak for 12-24 hours.
2. In another bowl, combine yeast, 1/4 cup warm water (100-110°), and honey. Allow yeast to proof for 5 minutes until bubbly.
3. In a mixer, add soaked flour, yeast, dough conditioner, gluten, and salt. Mix on low speed until well incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour and knead with the mixer for 8-10 minutes. This dough is quite soft so using a mixer works better than hand kneading.
4. Dough will be slightly sticky; don’t be tempted to add more flour.
5. Lightly oil a bowl. Place dough in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the oven with the oven light on. Let rise for 1 hour until double in size. Remove from oven.
6. Place a shallow pan of hot water in the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 450°.
7. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and gently knead again. Divide dough into two parts. Roll each half between your hands and the counter to stretch the dough into a long loaf shape. Place on a baking sheet or in a baguette pan (see photo). Slice the tops of the loaves diagonally about 1/4″ deep with a razor blade or sharp knife. Let rise for at least 20 minutes.
8. Bake baguettes for 12-15 minutes. Remove the pan of water, turn oven off and allow bread to remain in the oven for 3-5 more minutes of baking. Watch closely to prevent baguettes from becoming too brown.
Optional: Use 1 egg white and 1 tbsp cold water to brush on loaves after removing the pan of water and before returning to oven for 5 minutes. This will give the crust a shiny finish as shown below.For more info on the nutritional benefits of soaked grains, click here.