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There are many different types of French bread called Pain [PAN] is the French word for "bread" or "loaf of bread." French bread is typically made with flour, water and yeast. There are two ways to make authentic French bread - one from a straight yeast method and the other from a starter (a mixture of flour and water with a pinch of yeast) which is allowed to ferment for several hours before being added to the bread's ingredients as the leavener. The second method, produces a loaf which is neither too dense, nor too airy and lasts a day or two. The crust is hard and crunchy-crisp, and can be made in any shape.
For the beginning baker, French Bread is a good recipe to start with. It has few ingredients, requires no special equipment beyond a bowl and a cookie sheet or baking pan. The loaves can be shaped by hand. Various types include:
BAGUETTE (baa-GHETT): The baguette - French for "little stick" - is a long, thin loaf of French bread with a hard, crisp crust and an airy, chewy interior. It dates to the 1920s and was a byproduct of a protective labor law that prevented French bakers from working between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. It became impossible for them to prepare traditional round loaves by breakfast time, so they had to create a thinner shape that was faster to prepare and bake.
The French baguette contains just flour, water, salt, and yeast from a starter. It should be 18 to 30 inches long and weigh between 9 and 12 ounces. The crumb (inside) is open with lots of irregularly shaped air holes, the crust a rich golden brown color, with five to seven similarly sized overlapping cuts on the top of the loaf. The thin edge of the cut should stand a touch above the rest of the loaf.
To Shape a Baguette:
1. After the FIRST RISE, gently deflate the dough, fold it over itself in the bowl and reshape into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with oil on the side that touches the dough. Let it rise until it has nearly doubled again about an hour to 1-1/2 hours. Gently deflate the dough again, reshape into a round, cover, and let rise for about 1 hour. Place the dough on a very lightly floured surface and divide it into equal pieces (about 10 - 12 ounces each). Cover the piece not being worked on with a damp kitchen towel.
2. Gently stretch one piece into a rectangle, leaving some large bubbles in the dough. Fold 1/3 of the way and the bottom third up as if you were folding a business letter. Now form the loaf into a log by rolling the dough over from left to right and sealing the seam with the heel of your palm. Set aside on the work surface and cover to relax before the final shaping. Repeat the shaping process with remaining pieces of dough.
3. Elongate each baguette by rolling it back and forth on the work surface along its length. Begin with both hands over the center of the loaf and work them out to the ends until the loaf reaches the desired length. Do not press down. Place the finished loaves on a peel, a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and generously sprinkled with cornmeal or on a baguette pan, made from a fairly thick metal which looks like a screen without the use of cornmeal.
4. Cover the loaves with well oiled plastic or a floured cloth and let rise for 30 to 40 minutes until the loaves are slightly plump but still not doubled in volume. You want the baguettes to be slightly under proofed; this will give them a better oven spring, resulting in loaves with a light, airy crumb and more flared cuts. Slash the loaves before baking.
Slashing: When the final rising is completed, a very sharp knife or razor blade is used to make several diagonal shallow cuts along the top of the loaf, called slashing. The purpose of cutting the loaf is to let steam escape and prevent the loaf from getting wild cracks during baking. Use a very sharp razor blade or lame to make 3 to 4 slashes, depending on the length of your loaves, on the top of each baguette. The cuts should run diagonally across it, and the blade should be held at a 30 degree angle to the loaf so that the cuts pop open in the oven. Be careful not to press down too hard, or you may deflate the loaves.
Baking: A very hot oven, such as 500 or 450 degrees F, is typically used for the first 12 - 15 minutes or so, and then the temperature is lowered to 350 to 400 degrees F, for example. The initial high temperature helps set the crust, then allowing the middle to bake and stay soft. To bake: thirty minutes before baking, place a baking stone in the oven to preheat, place an empty water pan directly under the stone and then, preheat the oven. Gently slide the loaves onto the preheated stone, or place the baguette mold in the oven.
To get a crispy crust: Pour 1 cup of very hot water into the water pan and quickly close the oven door. After 1 minute, mist the loaves and oven walls 6 to 8 times and close the door. After 2 more minutes, spray the loaves and the oven walls again.
BOULE: A round loaf sold in various sizes.
FICELLE: A very thin version of the baguette. Ficelle means string in French.
FOUGASSE: A flat rectangular bread often filled with bacon, onion or herbs.
GROS PAIN: A large family size version of a baguette.
PAIN DE CAMPAGNE (COUNTRY FRENCH): This is usually a big rustic loaf (campagne means country) with a thick crust. This traditional country loaf is by far one of the most popular breads to be found in every region of France and comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. It is made most often with a blend of whole-wheat, white, and rye and leavened with a natural starter. The crumb should have lots of big, irregularly shaped holes that come from a wet dough, lengthy fermentation, and gentle handling.
PAIN COMPLET: Loaf made from whole wheat flour.
PAIN DE MIE: Mie means the interior. Sliced, packaged white bread; this is a soft sweet loaf mainly used for sandwiches.
PAIN AUX NOIX: Bread filled with nuts.
PAIN AUX RAISINS: A light bread filled with raisins. A breakfast treat.
PAIN DE SIEGLE: Loaf with two thirds rye flour, one third wheat flour.
PAIN VIENNOIS: A baguette shape but softer and sweeter.
PAIN D'EPICES: Spiced or gingerbread Pain grillé Toasted bread
PAINS ORDINAIRE (PAIN ORDINAIRE): Simple lean breads. Baguettes, and other French, Italian, and Vienna-style breads where the entire flavor is determined by the quality of the wheat, coupled with the baker's ability to draw out flavor through fermentation and baking techniques.
PAIN PERDU: French toast
PAIN PETIT: Roll
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