Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Boule

From Wikipedia:

"Boule, from the French for "ball", is a traditional shape of French bread, resembling a squashed ball. It is a rustic loaf shape that can be made of any type of flour. A boule can be leavened with commercial yeast, chemical leavening, or even wild yeast sourdough. The name of this bread is the reason a bread baker is referred to as a "boulanger" in French, and a bread bakery a 'boulangerie.'"

I picked up the bread book at Powell's when we were in Portland this summer.  When we got home I learned that all the recipes used a sourdough starter and it took four days to get the starter ready.

I know making bread on your own takes a bit of time, but four days?

So I kept putting it off.  And then finally I said, ok, let's do this.

Unfortunately, the starter didn't look like it did in the book.  It was way too dry.  But I'd never made starter before and I was following the recipe exactly. 

Day 2 you're supposed to mix up more flour (rye) and water and add the previous day's mix to it.  As you can see, both are dry and crumbly.  I'm thinking, this book was a mistake.  But then I went to Youtube and looked up the author and sourdough starter.  I found someone else making starter.  I had no choice, I was going to have to add more water.

Day three it was bubbling.  I added more flour and water, and by day four it was good to go. 

Here's the dough after the ingredients were mixed in - not much compared to my previous breads.  Just flour, sourdough starter, yeast, water, and salt.  I had the book open to keep track of what I was supposed to be doing. 

It looked a little lumpy, but as I kneaded, it smoothed out. 

After letting it sit and rise, the next step was to stretch out the sides and then fold them back over a bunch of times and finally make it into a ball, rolling the edges down underneath with my hands.

The picture shows the ball before and after proofing.  (Proofing is what they called the second rising period.)  Actually it grew outward more than it grew up. 

Then I was supposed to score the top before putting it in the oven on parchment paper.  Fortunately J uses that so we had some.

They call for a hot oven - 450˚F - and this bread needed 40-45 minutes.

It did some rising in the oven and it got a little dark on top, but not burnt. 

Inside was perfect.  It was tasty and had a great consistency.  It disappeared quickly.

I was supposed to refresh the starter, and as you can see below, it got carried away.

So I needed to make more bread.

But it turned out we didn't have much white flour left (lots of the recipes call for regular flour) so I used whole wheat flour instead.

And I made two smaller loaves.

They looked good - they were in the oven only 30 minutes - and they tasted good, but they were much heavier breads.

And then we were leaving.  So, following the directions in the book I tightened the lid on the jar and stuck the starter into the fridge.

Wednesday night I pulled the starter out, added some new flour and water and let it sit overnight.  We got more white flour and I started another boule.  But it was late, so after the first rising, I put it in the fridge for the second one.  Pulled it out in the morning and eventually put it into the oven.

It didn't rise as well as the first one and the crust was that same almost burnt color.  It was heavier, but still tasty.   I learned from the sourdough starter problem that there's a fair amount of leeway in this bread making, and you have to experiment.  I'll try the oven a little lower next time to see if the crust doesn't get so dark.  And the overnight in the fridge may have held back the proofing, though I've learned in the past that putting it in the fridge overnight shouldn't be a problem.  Maybe I needed to let it warm back up more before baking.

There are lots of different bread recipes in the book and with the starter alive and growing, there's incentive to bake more often. 


  1. Very nice bread. The crumb in the loaf you show cut open is perfect.

    Try this.

    Commercial bakeries use steam-injection ovens that shoot a blast of steam into the oven at the start of the baking process.

    We homeowners can't afford steam injection ovens, however, we can simulate steam injection.

    Get a plastic spray bottle and fill it with water.

    When you put your bread in the oven, spray the sides and top of the oven with water -- steam will boil around the oven -- close the door.

    Wait 30-45 seconds, open the door, spray the oven again.

    Wait another 30-45 seconds, do it again.

    The steam does something to the crust that makes it crusty without being hard.

    I have also started putting a cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven, then, just before I put the bread into the oven, I pour a cup of hot water into the skillet. That adds moisture to the interior of the oven.

    Be careful spritzing water into the oven -- it generates a huge cloud of steam that will boil out in your face -- aim the spray toward the rear of the oven and close the door quickly.

    Two of my favorite bread baking books are:
    -- "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"
    -- "Artisan Baking"

    You might also want to invest in a baking stone -- also called a pizza stone. It's a ceramic tile, comes in square or round. Put it in the oven at the same time you start pre-heating the oven. Use a wooden pizza paddle to shovel your loaves onto the stone for baking.

  2. And another thing -- there are two good sourdough books by Ed Wood:

    -- "Classic Sourdoughs," published in 2001, and,
    -- "Classic Sourdoughs, Revised," published in 2011

  3. Old Redneck, thanks for the advice. The Larouse book did say to put a baking pan in the oven and put 1/4 cup of water in, which I did. My concern was for how dark the crust got.

    I've been thinking about the baking stone. Sounds like a good way to go.

    I will check out those books. Again, thanks.

  4. This is kind of like getting a puppy, isn't it? You think this will be a nice little hobby and next thing you know, you're stuck walking the dog twice a day, every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health....

    1. Well, at least you can stick the starter in the fridge for a couple of weeks and forget it. I'm not going to give the starter a name, that's for sure.


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