Mastering the Art of French Bread Baking. Part 1. Boule.

It is quite amazing how the French create a variety of breads with only flour, yeast, water and their famous art of folding and shaping – called „le faconnage“  – which gives each bread its unique texture and taste.



My basic recipe for a traditional French bread is very easy to make. If you want to be as close as possible to the original you might want to get the French T65-flour. You can purchase it from various online – shops. However, plain, all-purpose wheat flour is just fine. It will give your Boule the desired light, open texture and a crisp crust.



Boule (Round French Bread)

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: medium
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The basic recipe for a traditional French bread
  • 590 g /  20.8 oz of plain wheat flour (or French T65-flour)
  • 400 g / 14.1  oz of water, cold
  • 12 g / 0.4 oz of salt
  • a hazelnut-sized ball of fresh baker’s yeast
  • a large round cast-iron pot, Römertopf or another heat-resistant dish with a lid
  1. Prepare the dough: Put flour in a large bowl. From the measured out water set aside about 3 – 4 tablespoons and dissolve the yeast in it. Add salt to the rest of the water, dissolve the salt in it and add to the flour. Finally, add the dissolved yeast. Using your hand combine all ingredients by kneading the dough until it is smooth and slightly sticky. Cover the bowl airtight with a lid or aluminum foil (the surface of the dough should not dry out). Set the dough aside to rest and mature for 24 hours at room temperature (at least 22°C / 72°F).

  2. Stretch and fold the dough: During those 24 hours stretch and fold your dough every 8 hours (first time after 8 hours of resting and again after 16 hours of resting). To stretch and fold your dough first dip your hand in water. It will prevent the dough from sticking to your hand. Then push your hand deep under the dough, pull the dough to you and fold it over the rest of the dough. Repeat the process from all sides until the whole dough is folded and lies round and tight in the bowl. After each stretching and folding cover the bowl again, set aside and let the dough rest.

  3. Shape a Boule: Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured bench, gently stretch it into a circle and fold into an envelope shape:  fold the bottom of the circle up to the middle. Then, fold the left side up and over about two-thirds toward the right, the right side up and over two-thirds toward the left. Finally, fold the top down to about the middle. Now, flip the dough over, so the seams are now on the bench. Using both hands, cup the side of the dough farthest from you and gently drag the dough down towards your body and tuck it under the mass. During this process, the dough should slightly stick to the bench. The dragging will create tension on the outside of the dough. Rotate the dough using both hands and perform another gentle drag towards your body. Continue rotating and dragging until the dough is sufficiently taut and uniformly round. Using a bench knife, gently transfer the shaped round to a proofing basket, seam side down, for the final rise. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, cover the basket with a clean dish towel and set aside for 1 hour to proof.

  4. Preheat the oven, with the pot in it, to 250°C / 485°F.

  5. Take the hot pot out of the oven, let the dough fall out of the basket directly into the pot, cover the pot with the lid and put it back in the oven. Reduce the heat to 240°C / 465°F and bake for 45 minutes. Let the bread cool on a cooling rack.

Tip: If you like your crust a little darker, take off the lid for the last 10 – 15 minutes of baking time.



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