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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf) Simplified

When I first started making free-form yeast bread I was intimidated by The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf) recipe. As a newbie free-form bread baker I found the recipe way too wordy - and that just confused the heck out of me. After making several successful batches I decided to scale down the steps in this recipe to make it more user friendly.  By using this platform to share my scaled-down version with other free-form bread-baking newbies I'm in hopes that this simplified version will encourage others who want to become more sustainable to attempt to use my version of this recipe.

After you make this bread you'll agree that it is one of the easiest and delicious free-form breads to make without using a bread machine. This recipe makes four 1-pound loaves and can be easily doubled or halved. 

The ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water (100 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (= 2 packets) (= 4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or other course salt (= 4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour - measured with the scoop-and sweep method *
  • Corn meal for pizza peel (not needed if using parchment paper)

*Scoop-and-sweep method: scoop up the four into a measuring cup; sweep off the top level using a knife; don't press down onto the flour as you scoop.

Making the dough:
  • Heat 3 cups of water to 100 degrees F and pour into a large bowl.
  • Add 1 1/2 tbsp of room temperature yeast and 1 1/2 tbsp of course salt to the water to dissolve.
  • Add 6 1/2 cups flour to the wet ingredients and mix everything together until it is uniformly moist without any dry patches.

  • Turn the dough out into at least a 5 quart plastic container that has a lid.
starting 2 hour rising
  • Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature for approximately 2 hours until it begins to collapse or flattens on the top. Longer rising times, up to 5 hours, will not harm the result. 
This shows how high the dough rises 
and flattens following the rising cycle.
  • The dough can be portioned off any time after this period but fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with so it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.
I was impatient and formed this loaf before refrigeration.
Although it tasted very good  it was too sticky
to get it smooth and round.                                   

On baking day:

  • Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking to it when you put it into the oven. (Instead of a pizza peel I use parchment paper placed on top of a cookie sheet - no cornmeal - easier cleanup.)
  • Cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough using a serrated knife.
  • Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.
  • Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive.
The dough for these loaves were refrigerated for
three days before they were baked.
They were not sticky and very easy to shape.
  • Place the shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel (or parchment paper) and allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes uncovered.
  • Preheat the oven to 45 degrees F with a baking stone placed on the middle rack and an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.
  • Lightly dust the top of the loaf with flour and slash a 1/4 inch deep pattern (3 straight lines work fine) into the top using a serrated bread knife.
  • After a 20-minute preheat slide the loaf off the pizza peel (or the loaf and the parchment paper off the cookie sheet) onto the preheated baking stone. Quickly pour about 1 cup of hot tap water into broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.
  • Allow to cool completely on a wire cooling rack for best flavor, texture and slicing.

  • Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days.

  • Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them.
  • The dough can also be frozen in 1 pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.
Artisan bread is great served with pasta.

For a more descriptive (wordy) Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf) recipe you can refer to this website where great photos are provided and more in-depth directions are provided.

If you need further encouragement please email me at and I'll be glad to assist you.

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