Making Julia Child's French Bread (With My Child)


After stumbling upon "My Life in France" by Julia Child recently at a used book sale, I became very interested in French cooking, or rather, baking. In the book, Ms. Child describes in vivid detail the process by which she wrote her famous cookbook, "Mastering The Art of French Cooking" which is available in two volumes. Although cooking to me is often more of a chore, taking up a huge chunk of my time and producing loads of dirty dishes three times a day, baking is another story. I love making a yummy batch of chocolate chip cookies or pulling fresh loaves of yeasty bread from the oven just in time for dinner. However, we have been trying to be supportive of the paleo eaters in our family and so I haven't been indulging in as much baking as I would like. 


Having become intrigued by French cooking from reading Julia Child's autobiography, I did make an effort to find her cookbooks on one of my routine trips to the local library. Although Volume One was not available, they did have Volume Two, which had the chapter which she describes so vividly in "My Life In France" on how to make real French bread. 

I decided to forget about paleo and Nourishing Traditions for a few days and give it a shot. It was also a fun little opportunity to teach my young daughter about measuring and scooping, and the amazing properties of yeast.  

The ingredients list was very simple, although she includes pages of detailed instructions. I added a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten to my recipe and it rose beautifully, sadly, I cannot say the same about the brioche which I made the same day. A few keys to doing French bread right, according to Julia Child, are sufficient rising time, and a hot steamy oven with a stone. Getting the bread from the rising surface to the stone was the one problem I encountered. She recommends flipping the bread out of the rising surface, after rising the shaped loaf, so that the bread is baked bottom side up. This was easier said than done with my amateur bread baking supplies.

The recipe is simple, and here it includes my variation of vital wheat gluten, for detailed directions see this post at Epicurious or buy the book.

French Bread

3 t. active dry yeast (approximately one package)
1/3 c. warm water

Allow yeast to dissolve in water in mixer bowl. I use a Bosch with dough hook.

3 1/2 c. flour (the recipe calls for all purpose, I usually bake with unbleached)
1 T vital wheat gluten
2 1/4 t. salt
1 1/4 c. tepid water

I mixed this for a couple minutes and let it rest for two minutes. Then I processed it in my Bosch for about 6 minutes. After it was feeling smooth and springy I placed it in a bowl prepared with a little olive oil and let it rise for about 3 or 4 hours. It is supposed to triple in size. After the first rising,  it is deflated, kneaded slightly and then allowed to rise a second time, another 3 hours or so. Finally it is shaped into loaves and given a third rising. I did baguettes which I slashed the tops of and then baked at 450 for 25 minutes. I baked them on a hot stone, with a pan of water in the oven for steam.

The bread was really wonderful.  Light and airy with perfect flavor, especially when slathered with butter. It was a special treat to make, especially with such a lovely little helper.

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