An 18th Century French Bread Recipe

Bread, (as it remains) was central to eighteenth-century French cuisine. If you have never made bread, be not afraid, it is simple. Although there are numerous factors that can affect bread, if you use fresh ingredients and protect the dough from getting a chill while rising, you will succeed.

French bread is basic.

The ingredients for two loaves:

1 packet of yeast
2 cups of warm water
6-7 cups of flour (mixed flours if you wish)
1 Tablespoon salt

Put the water into a small bowl. The water should be on the high side of warm. Take care that the bowl does not cool the water. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water and set aside.

Measure your flour into a bowl or other container and mix in the salt. Grease another bowl for the dough to rise. This bowl should be of generous proportions. Another bowl should be readied for mixing the dough. If you want sweetener put a couple of tablespoons of sugar or honey in the mixing bowl. Flour your breadboard.

If you have taken about ten minutes to get all this ready the yeast has probably soften to a gray scum on top of the water or maybe has become bubbly. Transfer this to the mixing bowl. Add three cups of flour to the liquid and stir until the mixture is smooth. Add more flour, one half cup at a time, and stir until you can stir no more.

Turn the dough out on the floured breadboard. Flour your hands and start working the remaining flour into the dough. Keep this up until the dough is very stiff and when you press lightly on it with a finger tip it springs back. One technique for kneading is to chop the dough in the middle and fold the dough over. Do whatever works for you but work the dough.

Take the dough and form it into a ball by folding it. Put the dough upside down into the greased bowl so the top gets greased and then turn it over. Cover the bowl with a towel and set it in a draft-free area to rise. It should about double its size in an hour.

After the first rising, punch it down to expel the air, and set the dough on the breadboard. Now, make the decision, one loaf, two loaves, four mini loaves, eight large sandwich buns, baguettes, etc. Just about anything is historically right. Keep in mind that an unbroken crust seems to preserve the bread so plan according to how it will be used. It seems best to finish the loaf in one meal. Anyhow, cut the dough into the size and number you want.

Common bread was not baked in pans. Form your loaf round, oval, long and skinny, whatever, and place it on a greased baking sheet (you can do this on cornmeal if you wish). Allow room between loaves as they will spread. Cover all with a towel and return to the rising place. Let it rise another hour. (Remember to preheat your oven to have it ready when the second rising is complete.)

Baking is quick and hot. The oven should be at least 425 F, some recommend a higher heat, and some start at a higher heat and turn it down after ten minutes. All will work if you watch so the bread does not burn. The baking time is 25 minutes. This, of course, can vary 5 minutes either way depending on the oven. The bread is done if you get a hollow sound when you tap on the bottom with a finger tip or knuckle.

A note on crusts. Those traditional French bread crusts are achieved with moisture. A pan of boiling water in the lower part of the oven and spraying the bread with a mist of water every few minutes during the first fifteen minutes of baking should work. There are other factors in your particular environment that will affect this.

Never cut your bread break it!

Bon Appétit!

Note: This recipe was sent to me from a French and Indian War reenactment group.

As the title says this is A recipe for making French bread. There are others far better bakers than I am who may make it different. C'est le monde.



Anonymous said...


A teaspoon of raw sugar or honey in with the yeast/warm water (should be prepared at blood heat') will feed it and give a better result. the type of flour is very important with bread; 'strong' or 'baker's' flour has a higher gluten content than plain (all purpose) and will give excellent texture - no rocks instead of loaves when they cool... There is little more pleasurable than the act of making and baking bread.



Brantigny said...

Thaks Sarah. I love french

Peterman said...

I have made these baquettes at home and it's a bit of work. It's no wonder the baker was in that trade alone and there was one in every town. I used a spray bottle for the moisture. One needs to be careful not to spill water on the glass window of the oven as it can crack. A good cheat to use is the mix the dough in the pizza dough cycle of a bread machine and proofing longer, preferably overnight gives the nice rustic style air bubbles in the loaf. This recipe seems more like a Parisian loaf so perhaps the air bubbles aren't desired here.
Nowadays I have a Fresh Market nearby and the baker there knows how to bake a proper baguette. They also sell du buerre from Brittany. Celle sur Belle butter on a French baguette, this is living!

Thanks for the recipe.

Brantigny said...

It should not come as asuprise then that many bakeries were next door to a brewery.