Daring to keep it simple can also produce great results…
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We started this recipe as a one-off experiment, thinking the result would not be that interesting, compared to the other bread recipes we already know and love. But the end result really surprised us. As you might expect, knowing some of our other favorite recipes, the key factors for this one are the same: time, timing and really good flour!
This recipe is the first to have a ‘dough calculator’ (see ingredients list). Other recipes will follow soon!
Although there does not seem to be strict definitions about French bread terminology, we simply call this bread ‘Pain Naturel’ or abbreviated PN. We chose this name because it stands for a basic yet full flavored sourdough bread, made just from ‘white’ bread flour. Using our own sourdough culture we found the bread gets a pleasant hint of sourness, which combines very well with the sweet flavor of the flour we use.
And especially because this bread is made with ‘white flour’ only, it is important to get the best quality, organic, stone ground flour you can get your hands on. When you do, we truly believe you will be rewarded with amazing taste and depth of flavor, better crumb structure and the crustiest of crusts.
Enjoy the recipe and let us know what you think. Also check out our handy sourdough tips to get the most out of your sourdough baking!
Before you start
For this recipe we are going to make a starter named a poolish. A poolish is a type of wet sponge usually made with an equal weight of water and flour and a small amount of sourdough starter culture or yeast and NO salt. Making a poolish helps bring more taste and strength to your bread.
We use a sourdough culture which is made with 100% whole grain rye flour. A sourdough culture based on rye flour is easier to maintain, does not go into a slurry when you forget about it, is easier to stir because it has almost no gluten and smells very nice, a bit like fruit. It is also very forgiving in the amount you feed it, everything seems to be alright. Normally we only feed it once a week, after our weekend baking we give it a few table spoons of water and rye flour, stir, ready!
|Ingredients for the Poolish
|wheat (bread) flour
|water (room temperature)
|Ingredients for the Pain Naturel
|makes 1 loaf
|the poolish from step 1
|wheat (bread) flour
Making the Poolish
In a bowl stir together the 115 g flour, 115 g water at room temperature with the 15 g sourdough culture. Mix it well until you have a homogeneous slurry that looks like very thick batter. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and let the prefermenting begin. After 12 hours at room temperature it should be bubbly, light and ready for use. So if you want to begin your bread making in the morning, you should make your poolish at 9 in the evening.
Note: We use European flour which absorbs a few % less water than American type flour. People using American type of flour should add 5-15 ml water to the final dough.
Making the Pain Naturel
Put the poolish starter and flour in the mixing bowl of your standing mixer and add 2/3 of the water (do NOT add the salt yet). Now start mixing and gradually add the rest of the water and let the dough come together. Knead for only 1 minute, leave it in your mixing bowl, cover with clingfilm and rest for 20 minutes (this technique is also referred to as autolyse).
Now add the salt and knead for another 4 minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover and leave to rest for 50 minutes.
Ideally the temperature of your dough after mixing should be around 24-25 ºC / 75 ºF. You should adjust the temperature of the water you add, so the total dough reaches this temperature. For us this means in summer adding cold water to this recipe and in winter (when our little bakery gets much colder then the rest of our house) adding water up to 50 ºC /122 ºF. You can measure the temperature of water and dough with a food thermometer. These measurements are important because they correspond with the proving times in the recipe.
After the first 50 minutes rest take the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured work surface and do one stretch and fold (a full letter fold, left over right, right over left, bottom over top, top over bottom; watch our bread movie or our stretch and fold method video to observe this technique if you are not familiar with it). Transfer to the bowl, cover and again leave to rest for 50 minutes. Repeat the stretch and fold (full letter fold) one more time (so 2 times in total) and leave to rest for 50 minutes (so this is the third and last of your three 50 minutes resting periods). During each stretch and fold the dough should feel firmer and less wet.
Now it’s time to shape. Shaping is a tricky subject. It’s something for which everybody develops his or her own favorite technique over time. You can make a batard or loaf shape or a boule (ball) shape like you see in the pictures. If necessary you can learn more on shaping from a good bread book, like the ones by Hamelman or Reinhart, or the Tartine Bread book. Or take a look at our boule shaping video.
Preheat your oven to 230 ºC / 445 ºF conventional setting (at what stage you preheat your oven depends on how long it takes for your oven to heat through, some take 30 minutes, some, like ours, with stone floors take a lot longer, up to two hours).
Transfer the shaped dough to a proofing basket / banneton, cover and leave to proof for 2 hours and 30 minutes (provided your dough has a temperature of around 24-25 ºC / 75 ºF, also check our tips on dough temperature). When you think it has risen enough, use your finger to carefully make a very small dent in the dough. If the dent remains, the bread is ready to bake, if the indentation totally disappears, the dough needs a little bit more time.
Now your loaf is ready for the oven. Slash the top of the loaf with a lame or bread scoring tool. To get a nice crust, try to create some steam in your oven by putting a small metal baking tray on your oven floor when you preheat the oven, and pour in half a cup of hot water immediately after putting the bread in the oven. Release some steam by setting your oven door ajar (perhaps with the help of a wooden spoon or oven mitt) 5 minutes before the bread is ready. If you are going to create steam with a baking tray, you may also want to turn your oven temperature a bit higher, because you are going to lose some heat in the process.
After 45 minutes of baking your loaf should be ready. Transfer onto a rack and leave to cool. This loaf also keeps very well in the freezer. But please make sure to eat at least some of it while fresh. This bread is great with just about anything, but also very tasty on its own.
Pain Naturel Time Table
Day 1 21.00 Make starter let ferment for 12 hours at room temperature
Day 2 0.900 Make final dough
- 09:00 – Add flour and water to starter, mix for 1 minute
- 20 minutes rest (autolyse)
- 09:20 – Add salt
- Knead for 4 minutes
- Rest for 50 minutes
- 10:14 – First stretch and fold
- Rest for 50 minutes
- 11:04 – Second stretch and fold
- Rest for 50 minutes
- 11:54 – Shape
- 12:00 Final proofing 150 minutes (2.5 hours)
- 14.30 – Bake for 45 minutes at 230ºC / 445ºF
- 15:15 – Your loaf is ready!