French Style Baking
- The French are renowned for their artisan breads. By using the four basic ingredients of water, flour, yeast, and salt, the French have mastered the art of creating complex breads that vary widely, despite the fact that each loaf contains the same ingredients. French law dictates that for “French” style breads, only the four above-mentioned ingredients may be used, along with ascorbic acid and rye flour. By manipulating rising times, kneading techniques, and with the use of speciality brick ovens, the French breads are as varied and unique as the regions in France.
- The most common flour used in baking is wheat-based, which contains proteins that, when agitated in the presence of water, form gluten. Gluten is a stretchy protein structure that holds in the bubbles made by leaveners (such as yeast or baking powder). Flours are graded by the amount of protein — in the United States, high gluten is 12-14%, while the standard bread flour contains 10-13% protein. All-purpose flour has a protein content of 9-12%, and pastry flour, used primarily for baking, is a softer flour with a protein content of about 9-10%. In Europe, the flour generally contains a lower protein content than that found in American bread flour, which necessitates longer mixing times and additions to the flour, such as ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C, which gives the dough tenacity for better rising).
- Many bakers prefer to use filtered water. Tap water that contains any traces of chlorine should not be used because the chlorine can kill the yeast.
- Two basic kinds of yeast are used in bread making: commercial yeast and natural yeast, which is the kind of yeast contained in sourdoughs. The two most common types of commercial yeast are compressed, also called cake yeast, and dry yeasts of which there are several forms. Active dry yeast must first be “proofed” to activate it prior to adding it to the flour and water: it is soaked in a small amount of water between 90-110F or 32-43C for approximately ten minutes. Sugar can be added to help the yeast “feed” and proof faster. Instant dry yeast may be mixed into flour before adding water.
- Natural yeast is trickier to work with, and it must be kept in controlled environments. By combining flour and water and allowing it to sit, the mixture will pick up natural yeasts in the air that will ferment to create more yeast. With repeated stirring and additions of flour and water, the mixture will become a sourdough. The sourness of the dough comes from a bacterial culture that lives alongside the natural yeast, typically a lactobacilli strain, most famously "Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis", as in the famous San Francisco sourdough.
- Professional dough conditioners are available to enhance the environment for the yeast.
- Salt serves a more important function than just providing flavor; it also controls the fermentation of the yeast. Too much salt and the yeast action will be retarded; too little salt, and the dough will not entrap enough carbonic gases to form a strong texture. Certain breads, such as Italian ciabattas, do not traditionally contain salt, but the majority of breads do.
- Ortiz,Joe. The Village Baker
- Berkely: Ten Speed Press, 1993.
- Lean and Luscious and Meatless Volume 3 in the Lean and Luscious Series
- by Bobbie Hinman and Millie Snyder
- Illustrations by Vonnie Crist
- Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA 1992
- Better Homes and Gardens: New Cookbook
- Editor: Jennifer Dorland Darling
- Published by the Meredith Corporation, Des Moines,Iowa, Copyright 1996