Julia Child’s birthday bread (BBB August 2012)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Julia Child’s French Bread based on the recipe for French Bread in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 2” by Julia Child and Simone Beck; a Bread Baking Babes project; submission for YeastSpotting and Bake Your Own Bread; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB) August 2012

Why yes, we ARE one day early! And as a special surprise, the BBBuddies are baking today as well.

Julia Child's French Bread (BBB) Why? Because today is Julia Child’s 100th birthday. And because Julia Child did so much to encourage home cooks like us, we thought it would be fitting to celebrate her birthday by making her French Bread.

Some people blanch at the thought of making any kind of bread, let alone French bread. There are cries of anguish:

“It takes toooooo long!”
“It’s toooo hard!!”

Au contraire. It really couldn’t be easier. And as for how long it takes. Here’s what Julia Child says:

Although it will take you a minimum of 7 hours from start to finish […] that does not mean that you are hovering over your dough for 7 straight hours. During almost all of this time the dough is sitting quietly by itself, rising in one form or another. Because you can slow down the rise by lowering the temperature, you may set it in the refrigerator or the freezer when you have to go out, and continue when you return. Thus, although you cannot successfully speed things up, you can otherwise fit bread making into almost any pattern that suits your schedule.

-Julia Child, Simone Beck, French Bread, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2, p.55

But the BBBabes don’t blanch. No; the BBBabes are fearless (mostly… okay, maybe one of us *cough* has a few fears…).

So. French Bread it was. And I was thrilled. And off I went, verbose as ever.

Julia Child’s French Bread Diary:

Friday 4 August 13:09: Twenty pages!! The recipe is twenty pages!!

13:12: Okay, I’ve started reading. I’m already having to re-read:

We therefore suggest that you do not attempt your first bread-making spree in a hot kitchen.
-Julia Child, French Bread, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MAFC): vol. 2, p.55

Do you think that 28C in the kitchen would be considered hot? hahhahahahahaha (why yes, I AM hysterical)

Thursday 9 August 07:18: I finally read all the way through the recipe. Yes. I read all 20 pages. And I’m amazed by two things: a.) that there is no preferment, making it a same-day recipe and b.) it calls for so much yeast.

one cake (0.6 ounce or 17 grams) fresh yeast or one package active dry yeast [Susan’s note: Here are some equivalents: fresh yeast: 17 grams; active dry yeast: 0.25 ounce or 7 grams). You could also use 5.6 grams of instant yeast] […] to rise.
-BBB Julia Child’s French Bread recipe

7 grams of active dry yeast!! As much as I admire Julia Child, I just can’t do it. I’m going to pretend that I misread that part and halve the amount. Yes! That’s it. I’ll say that I saw the 7 but it looked like a 3.5. :lalala:

But. It has been poisonously hot this week. It’s definitely not the time to be turning the oven on. And I don’t think I’m prepared to try baking this bread in the barbecue.

It’s not so bad this morning; it’s still pretty warm here – but not quite as poisonously hot as it was on the weekend. I’m going to hold off until tomorrow or Saturday. Environment Canada has promised that it’s only going up to 22 or 23. I’m still thinking about refrigeration overnight though.

Friday 10 August 06:52: It’s pouring right now. But it’s also beautifully cool now – just 18C and forecast to go up to 23C. Now THAT’S how summer should be! I’m going to mix bread dough! And because I just can’t bear to use only white flour, I’m going to add just a little whole wheat flour (I’m justifying it by claiming I’m using Carol Field’s method to mimic hand-milled flour). Also, because the recipe makes 3 loaves, I’m going to make two thirds the recipe.

This makes me very very happy because I can play with my calculator.

07:02: I’m just reviewing the recipe again…

You now have approximately 3 cups of dough that is to rise to 3 1/2 times its original volume, or to about 10 1/2 cups. Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Note, that the bowl should have fairly upright sides; if they are too outward slanting, the dough will have difficulty in rising. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it
-Julia Child, French Bread recipe, MAFC vol.2, p. 60

I’d completely forgotten about this really clever way to tell if the volume had tripled! And I had also completely forgotten that it was because of Julia Child that I am so freaky about washing and drying the mixing bowl just before kneading the dough!

08:18: Doh!!! In my frenzy of measuring and marking the triple volume spot, I completely forgot to knead the dough for another minute. I’ll go and do that now….

08:23: Thank goodness for Chad Robertson’s kneading in the bowl method! I was able to do the one minute kneading without having to rewash the bowl (the sides are still pristine) AND without having to reclean the board and dough scraper. Yay! No, double yay, the dough is beautifully soft and pillowy.

11:35: I looked at the dough about an hour ago and was worried that it wasn’t going to rise. (Yes, it’s true. I couldn’t bear to put in all that yeast specified in the recipe and cut the amount drastically.) I just looked again and yay!! it has doubled!

14:16: The dough still hadn’t quite tripled but it was looking quite bubbly and wet. So I went ahead and folded it. It feels beautiful!

15:15: I just shaped the bread. I decided to make two boules. Initially, I was going to pretend that I missed reading the part in the recipe that said to put the shaped loaves onto flour-rubbed canvas. But then I thought about something that the BBBabes were talking about a few months ago – that we really should try challenging ourselves and do the very things that we were afraid to do.

Well. I’m afraid to let shaped dough rise on cloth and then have to turn it over onto the peel to bake it. I floured a tea towel (I know. It’s not canvas!) and put it into a basket and laid one of the shaped rounds seam side up inside. I put the other round seam side down on parchment paper. And crossed my fingers. And comforted myself with Julia Child’s wise words:

It will turn into bread in the oven whatever happens, but you will have an easier time and a better loaf if you aim for ideal conditions.
-Julia Child, French Bread recipe, MAFC vol.2, p. 65

16:10: I had imagined that we would be having this bread with dinner tonight. But the little loaves have hardly budged. So we’ll have oven-roasted potatoes with our ropa vieja (remind me to rave about that). :-)

I really should have just made one large boule. I don’t have a handle on how much bread results from what volumes and/or weights of flour and water. Had I known this dough would make such small loaves, I’d have made the full recipe.

21:33: Julia Child's French Bread (BBB) At last the bread is baking. Of course, there was no problem with the loaf resting on the parchment paper. It rose nicely. As for the one in the basket… phoooey. :lalala:

Still, I wanted to retain the pattern that the tea towel made. So after flipping the basket loaf onto a piece of parchment paper, I sprayed the paper liberally with water. And I sprayed the other loaf very liberally.

I decided NOT to slash. I spent too long eating dinner so the bread had perhaps over-risen. Slashing risked deflating it.

I know. I was doing so well to follow the instructions at the beginning. But once my transgressions began in earnest, I gave myself permission to continue going astray. I was supposed to be creating a steam chamber in the oven. By the time I was ready to bake, I was too lazy to re-read the instructions. All I remembered was something about spraying inside the oven if I didn’t have something-or-other. I knew I didn’t have whatever that was. I also knew I wasn’t going to spray inside the oven ever again. We’ve already had to replace one appliance bulb and be terrified about glass shards in a loaf one time. I’m not risking that a second time. :stomp:

22:03: I can’t wait to try this bread!! It smells fabulous and is light as a feather. The non-basket loaf had lovely oven pop. The basket loaf looks presentable. At least it held onto its cute markings.

French Bread (BBB) It was indeed fabulous! Crispy on the outside and wonderfully springy and light on the inside. With thanks to Julia Child! What a great legacy she left to us.

Here is the BBB August’s Julia Child’s French Bread recipe. And here is what I did to it:

Julia Child’s French Bread
based on French Bread in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 2” by Julia Child and Simone Beck

makes 2 small boules

  • 2 gm (~ 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast ¹
  • 80 gm (80 ml) lukewarm water
  • 250 gm (2 c) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 40 gm (1/3 c) whole wheat flour
  • 8.6 gm (1.5 tsp) fine seasalt ²
  • 173 gm (173 ml) tepid water
  1. Put yeast into a smallish bowl. Pour the warm water (do the baby bottle test on your wrist to check the temperature) overtop and whisk until the yeast dissolves. Set aside.
  2. Pour the tepid water into a large mixing bowl. Add the flours and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Add the yeasted water and continue stirring until the flour is encorporated.
  3. Turn the dough onto the UNfloured board and allow to rest as you wash and dry the bowl. While you are washing the bowl, pour about 7 cups of water into the empty bowl and make a note of the level by marking the outside of the bowl. Please do not be tempted to skip this step!
  4. Kneading Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. Refrain from adding extra flour. Use a dough scraper to keep the board clean.
  5. Allow the dough to rest for about 5 minutes, then knead again for one minute. Place the kneaded dough in the clean bowl. Please note that there is no need to oil the bowl! (Don’t worry! When the dough has risen enough, it wants to come out of the bowl cleanly.) Put a plate overtop and allow to rise at warm room temperature – around 21C – until it is 3.5 times the volume (you should have about 2 c dough and it should expand to about 7 c). This rising takes approximately 3 hours. (Oops. I forgot to let the dough rest and then to knead again. So I kneaded it in the bowl about 10 minutes later when I noticed the instruction on the recipe.)
  6. Julia Child's French Bread (BBB) When the dough has tripled, scatter a light dusting of flour on the board. Carefully remove the dough – it should just pop out of the bowl with the merest nudge of the side of your finger – onto the flour. Use a dough scraper to fold the dough in half. Pat it lightly to remove excess flour. Fold it in half again. Pat it again to remove any excess flour. Return the dough to the bowl, place a plate overtop and allow it to rise at warm room temperature until it has almost tripled in volume (that same 7 cups worth). This will take 1.5 to 2 hours.
  7. shaping: Rub a good shot of flour into a clean tea towel ³ and place it inside a smallish round basket. Lay a piece of parchment paper down on the board.
  8. Divide the dough into 2 even pieces. (Or, if you’d like to make one larger loaf, don’t bother dividing the dough.) Fold each piece of dough in half, cover with a clean tea towel and allow them to rest for 5 minutes.
  9. Shape the loaves into rounds 4: gently grab the outside of the first piece of dough to create a false braid. Keep fake braiding until the dough curls up on itself to become a tight round. Pick it up and pull the seam tightly into the center of the loaf. Place it seam side UP on the floured towel. Repeat the shaping with the other piece of dough and place it seam side DOWN on the parchment paper. Cover the shaped loaves with the tea towel, followed by a large plastic grocery bag and allow to rise at room temperature until they are almost tripled (1.5 – 2.5 hours)
  10. Preheat oven to 400F with the stone on the middle shelf. Transfer the risen loaf in the basket onto a baking sheet by putting a piece of parchment paper over the basket and quickly flipping the basket over. Carefully remove the floured cloth. (Good luck!!).
  11. Baking If you are not faint-hearted like I am, slash the loaves. Liberally spray the loaves with water. If you want to preserve the flour pattern on the basket loaf, liberally spray the parchment paper surrounding the loaf. Use your peel to put the loaves into the oven. Julia Child suggests spraying into the oven three times at 3-minute intervals to create more steam. I did not do this. We have already had to replace an appliance bulb once after attempting this trick a while back. I do NOT want to do that again…. :stomp: I have also heard nightmares – possibly urban myths – of the glass on the oven door shattering. No thank you. :stomp: :stomp:
  12. Bake at 400F oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the bread around half way through the baking to account for uneven heat in the oven. The bread is done when its internal temperature is between 200F and 210F and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.
  13. Remove the bread from oven and allow to cool on a well ventilated rack. Wait until they are completely cool before cutting them! They are still continuing to bake inside! 5


1.) Yeast: The BBB recipe calls for 8 gm (2.25 tsp) active dry yeast. When I reduced the recipe to make two thirds, I just couldn’t bear to put in 1.5 tsp yeast! It just seems like too much and it is in the yeast amount that the age of the recipe shows. I feel certain that Julia Child would have approved of my decision. (Yes, I’m that arrogant.)

2.) Salt: After tasting the bread, it’s my feeling that this is too much salt. Next time, I will use less. I just worked out the baker’s percentage and see that Julia Child’s recipe calls for 3% salt. I think I’ll reduce it to 2% – to use or 6 gm (1 tsp)for the recipe above. However… on her TV show “The French Chef”, Julia Child talked about the importance of salt in the dough, that it affects both flavour and colour. Alas, she didn’t go into it more. So I googled to learn that if there is not enough salt, the bread may not brown enough. And the reverse is true as well; if there is too much salt, the bread may turn out too brown or red.

Salt indirectly contributes to crust coloring. This attribute is a result of the salt’s characteristic of retarding fermentation. Starch in the flour is converted into simple sugars […] Since the salt is slowing the rate of the sugar consumption, more of what is known as residual sugar is available at the time of the bake for crust coloration.
-King Arthur Flour, salt

Typically the amount of salt in a dough is between 1.8 and 2 percent of the amount of flour, by weight. If there is a large proportion of other ingredients, such as seeds, for which salt also enhances flavor, the percentage of salt could be a little higher.
-Susan, Wild Yeast, Wild Yeast: Worth Its Salt – The Role of Salt in Bread

3.) Teatowel: I see now that Julia Child suggests using linen or canvas. So THERE’S my error! I used cotton….

4.) What shape: Of course, this bread can also be shaped into baguettes: turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board. Divide it in two even pieces (eyeball the cut; it doesn’t matter if it’s exact). Gently pat each piece into a narrow rectangle, trying not to disturb the bubbles too much. Fold each one like a business letter: the top third down to the middle and the bottom third up to the top edge. Use your thumbs to seal the seam. Leave the partially shaped bread seam side down on the board. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow them to rest for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes have passed, working one at a time, gently press (again trying not to disturb the bubbles too much) each piece into a narrow rectangle that is about 8 inches long. Fold like a business letter (end result will be an even narrower rectangle about 8 inches long): the top third down to the middle and the bottom third up to the top edge. Use your thumbs to seal the seam. Repeat with the other piece. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow them to rest for about 30 minutes more until they are soft and stretchy. Gently stretch each rectangle until it is long enough to fit your baguette mould. Place each piece into a parchment-lined baguette mould. Cover with a clean tea towel and place the whole thing into a large plastic bag for proofing.

5.) But I LIKE warm bread! If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it has cooled completely. To reheat uncut bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust perfectly.

Julia Child's French Bread (BBB) Thank you for this, Susan! We love Julia Child’s bread and have even greater respect (if it’s even possible) for Julia Child than we did before.

We served the bread for dinner with mushroom soup and parsley pistou (we used almonds because we didn’t have any hazelnuts) and a Romaine and yellow zucchini salad dressed with bacon, fresh thyme leaves and a simple vinaigrette. All were brilliant.

Especially the bread.

Bread Baking Babes
Bread Baking Babes (and Buddies): August 2012 - Julia Child's French Bread

Susan (Wild Yeast) is the host of August 2012’s Bread Baking Babes’ task. She wrote:

August 15 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Julia Child (one of my personal and culinary heroes!) I was planning to make and post her French bread on that day. The publication of the recipe/bread method in the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was really historic in bringing French bread into the purview of the home baker. […]

BBB invitation 15 August 2012

The Babes will bake and post on August 15th in honor of Julia Child’s 100th birthday, and we would love for the Buddies (that is, anyone who would like to play), to join us in posting on that day. Big thanks to Elle for creating the invitation.

If you haven’t done so already, we know that you too will WANT to bake this bread!! We’d love to see how your bread turned out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ French Bread:

Yeastspotting - every Friday (wordle.net image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:

Bake Your Own Bread (BYOB)
BYOB is a monthly event hosted by Heather (girlichef)

that encourages you to start (or continue) getting comfortable baking bread in your own kitchen. Anything from simple quick breads to conquering that fear of yeast to making and nurturing your own sourdough starter. All levels of bakers are welcome to participate.

BYOB Badge For more information about BYOB, please read the following:


Julia Child's French Bread (BBB)


This entry was posted in anniversaries, baking, BBBabes, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, bread recipe, food & drink, posts with recipes on by .

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11 responses to “Julia Child’s birthday bread (BBB August 2012)

  1. Tanna

    Verbose you maybe but I always enjoy read. I use 180 g of white whole wheat on my first bake and 150 g on my 2nd. Liked the 2nd best, little better texture. Want to try 150 g as sprouted wheat next.
    Sounds like there might have been some wine in that last rise ;-)
    I’d think Julia would have loved your loaves!

  2. Natashya

    Lovely boules! I’m surprised you didn’t grill them.
    We loved them too. I think I ate about 4 baguettes last week. Gained about 5 pounds. The sacrifices we make for our art!

  3. breadsong

    Such lovely French bread you’ve made to honor Julia, Elizabeth – I enjoyed reading your account of how you made it!
    Julia certainly would have loved your bread, and the meal you served it with!
    :^) breadsong

  4. Heather @girlichef

    I don’t think that’s an urban myth…that hot glass really can shatter when water hits it. Although, it’s probably more likely that it will be the light bulb (fortunately, I don’t have a light bulb in my oven…or a glass window for that matter…so I’m all good). I think your little loaves look lovely! And my whole family agrees that they are fabulous! Simple, but perfect. This recipe will hopefully become a regular around here! And thanks as always for adding your loaves to the BYOB basket this month! :)

  5. Elle

    So glad the super hot weather went away just in time for you to make these glorious loaves! They look perfect and I love your description of crispy on the outside and wonderfully springy and light on the inside…mine were that way, too! Had to laugh about the bread not being ready for the planned dinner. I’ve been known to serve freshly baked bread at 10 pm when I couldn’t get the timing right but wanted bread THAT day, not the next. Happy 100th!

  6. Lien

    Lovely to see another shape here, great boule. Yes I used less salt as well, 2,5 tsp on just 500 g flour just is way too salty for our moders palets I think (they’re always campaining/advertising here to use less salt in products) Very hot here too, but the dough didn’t mind fortunately.
    (this is my second time commenting, 2 days back I had a long comment -can’t remember what I wrote then- and your blog just ATE it before I could hit ‘say it’!! tell him to do that no more please :))


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