Baking your own New Orleans style French bread is easier than you think, even if you’ve never baked bread. How much better it tastes too after you pull that great smelling loaf of french bread out of the oven, place it on the table and sit down, and then you and everyone else at the table take turns gently tearing off a wonderfully warm piece of it; placing it next to a rich and creamy, delicious bowl of French Winter Bisque that you prepared while waiting on the bread.
New Orleans Style French Bread Recipe
If you want to serve this food pair at around 6pm, make a poolish that morning, no later than 7:30am.
Poolish Dough Starter
7/8 cup cool water
¾ tsp of dried yeast
½ cup of all-purpose ( organic ) flour
Put the flour in about a 2.5 quart mixing bowl. While whisking the water in another container, slowly shake the dried yeast into it and continue whisking until the water and yeast are blended. Use a round wooden spoon to mix the whisked water and yeast into the flour, continuously stirring in the same direction in which you started. In other words, only stir one way so that you make long gluten strands while stirring. Stir it until it’s comparative to a slightly lumpy pancake batter.
Cover the bowl with film, cheese cloth or a cotton dish towel. Whatever you use make sure the air in the pot stays trapped and still, including not moving the pot once you put it out of the way.
Get your dough ingredients ready before 2:30pm. Careful not to disturb the bowl of poolish, start checking it to see if its bubbly and has risen to it maximum, about twice its original volume, at around 2:30pm. Keep carefully glancing at it periodically, using it after it has risen all that it’s going to rise, or immediately if it starts to fall from where it has risen highest.
2.5cups of all-purpose ( organic ) flour
¾ cup of cool water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp table salt
Poolish Dough Starter
Put the salt into the flour and then sift the flour. While whisking the water in another container, slowly shake the dried yeast into it and continue whisking until the water and yeast are blended. Add the yeast water mixture to the poolish dough starter and mix it a little bit.
Add about ½ cup of flour to the mix and mix thoroughly. Continue adding ½ cup of flour at a time to the mix and mixing thoroughly until you have ½ cup of flour left. At this point you want to check the wetness of your dough. Is it starting to form into its own lump of dough? Is it pulling away from the sides of the bowl? Add a little more flour at a time, mixing each time until it does, and once it does add another tablespoon of flour and mix.
Turn the lump of dough out from the bowl onto a flat, well-floured surface. Knead the dough for a few minutes, adding flour as necessary.
Wash and dry the bowl, and then add the thinnest film of ( organic ) vegetable oil to the inside of the bowl. Cover it with film or other and let it sit for thirty minutes. Pull the dough out of the bowl, stretching it out a bit and then put it back in the bowl for another 30 minutes. Repeat this step another two times.
This next step is the important step, in that if you want it to come out like New Orleans style French bread, then you’re going to have to knock back the dough so that you leave both large and small pockets of air in it. So gently knock back the dough so that it falls about ¼ of its size.
Unless you have a really wide oven-and who does at their home-don’t plan on making loaves of French bread as long as they are in New Orleans. It’s just not going to happen. But you can get them as even all around, top and bottom, like typical New Orleans French bread, if you can distribute the texture evenly throughout the loaf, during preparation.
New Orleans style French bread is long-shaped, with about a 6-8 inch circumference. The long stick of bread finishes with a maximum amount of very thin, flaky, light crust. The bread crumb inside has all hole sizes, large and small.
Divide the kneaded dough into the longest shapes possible, as explained above. Dust the loaves with flour and cover again for another 30 minutes.
Fold the dough lengthwise so that weight of the dough is re-distributed as evenly as possible from top to bottom and from left to right. Repeat as necessary. Place the loaves of French bread on a very lightly greased tray pan to rise.
Take out every rack in the oven except the top-most rack. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Fill an oven safe pot with water and place it in the oven. Use the oven light to see when the water is steaming and when it is put a light spray of water on the loaves of French bread and place them on the top rack of the oven. ( Be very careful when opening the oven door, so that the steam doesn’t burn your face or arms. )
In about 5 minutes check to see that the loaves of French bread are browning evenly. Shift the loaves around the oven, if necessary. After about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your oven and the size of the pot, take the pot out of the oven and then let the loaves of French bread bake for another fifteen minutes or so.
You’re looking for a very light brown finish to the loaves of French bread, and once they’re baked such, take them out and place them to the side.
Warm bread…warm bisque…what’s not to like on a cold winter day! What’s so great also about these two together is New Orleans style French bread is light and airy and French Winter Bisque is thick and creamy. Eat the French bread like New Orleanians do, warm with butter slathered on it, and then quickly dipped in the bisque. Do your soul another favor by using European style salted butter, with its higher butterfat content, including for the French Winter Bisque preparation, rather than ( American ) sweet cream butter. Bon appetit!
Disclaimer: I’ve never worked for Leidenheimers or one of the other great French po-boy bread making institutions in New Orleans, but like most any other New Orleanian I’ve eaten my share of French bread. While this recipe will get you close to the original bread, it’s near impossible to duplicate, unless you have the exact same recipe and conditions for making the same French ( Po-boy ) bread that’s found in New Orleans.