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Lean Loaf Recipe

Pain d'Epi One simple recipe with few ingredients can accomplish so much! This is an enriched French bread recipe that can be used to make pizza crusts, baguettes, sandwich rolls, dinner rolls, batards, boules, or even bread sticks, and it does all this with great flavour, texture, and color. Most of the flavor comes from the flour, so be sure to find a good quality all-purpose flour, and add some wheat gluten for great volume.

If you need help with the basics of kneading and shaping dough, you can watch videos of the pros performing these tasks. Visit The Back Home Bakery website to watch Mark Sinclair kneading, dividing, folding, and shaping dough; you can order a DVD with instructions and recipes. Mark has a special talent for balancing ingredients, and his recipes are beyond compare.

For ideas to score your loaves in artistic ways, visit Le Petit Boulanger and click on the Videos link in the navigation menu. Then, scroll down to La Scarification... and select a video to watch how expert French bakers create their beautiful loaves!

Preferment:  1 c semolina flour (#1)

1 tsp instant yeast

1 c water (filtered)

Wet:  1 tbls honey

2 tbls olive oil

1 ¼ c water


4 c all-purpose flour

2-3 tsp sea salt

2 tbls wheat gluten

2 tbls potato flour or 1 small russet potato, riced

2 tbls non-instant buttermilk powder, optional

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In a small bowl, mix the yeast and semolina flour; stir in filtered water and cover with plastic film.  Leave at room temperature until mixture froths and bubbles.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.  If using fresh riced or mashed potato, reduce water by 1-2 ounces (1/8 to ¼ cup).

Add honey, olive oil, and water to the preferment and stir thoroughly. 

Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and mix well, adding more water if necessary.  Dough should be soft or slightly wet.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 15 minutes or until gluten develops, giving the dough a smooth elastic feel.  Oil large bowl with olive oil and turn dough in it to coat all sides.  Cover with plastic film and refrigerate over night or for several hours, until doubled in volume.

Stretch and fold: this technique replaces "punching down" the dough to eliminate gas bubbles. The "stretch and fold" is gentler and allows for a lighter "crumb" in the finished bread. To stretch and fold, take the dough ball between two hands and squeeze it gently, allowing its weight to draw it into a long rectangle. Place the dough on the board and fold it like a letter in three sections, pinching the ends together. Repeat this two or three times, and then reform the dough into a ball or pinch it into smaller balls.
Remove bowl to room temperature for an hour or two.  Stretch and fold twice, then form a smooth ball, tucking edges under.  Allow to almost double in bulk, then stretch and fold again. 
Sandwich Roll Divide dough into four balls or more, depending upon what you plan to make with it.  Four balls will give you four 15” pizza crusts or baguettes.  Two balls will yield two large loaves or batards.  Eight balls will yield large sandwich rolls, and twelve balls will produce small sandwich rolls or dinner rolls.  Half of the dough will yield several dozen thick chewy breadsticks.  You can easily make a baguette, a pizza crust, a few rolls, and a dozen or so breadsticks with this recipe.
Cover the dough balls with oiled plastic film and allow to rise until almost doubled.  Then, form the balls into the shapes you need. 
Pizza crusts may be rolled out with a rolling pin and may need to rest once or twice to achieve the size requirement.  You can roll the dough out on dry parchment and when you see the parchment beginning to wrinkle from the dough snapping back, set it aside for 15 minutes to rest, covered with oiled film, then try again.
Pizza Dough

When rolling out breadsticks or rolls, use sesame seeds and kosher salt on the board while shaping the top surface, or mist the surface with water just before they go into the oven, and sprinkle seeds and salt over.

Scored Pizza Crust When the dough is almost doubled, it’s ready to be scored.  Find a sharp blade or razor that will slice cleanly through the skin of the dough without tugging.  For pizza crusts or rolls, you can use a pair of kitchen shears and nip the surface of the dough with the tips of the scissor blades to allow expansion in the oven.  The direction of your slashes will determine the final shape of the loaf. Flouring the blade will help to avoid tugging and tearing.
Preheat the oven at 500° F or 550° F for half an hour to an hour with pans on the bottom for water and at least one baking stone in the middle and one above if possible.  A 15” x 16” baking stone, ½ to 5/8” thick, will give good oven spring and caramelization of the crust.  If you have a 15” pizza stone, it can be used above to reflect heat onto the top crust, or to allow you to bake two batches at once.
Fill a teapot or watering can with a cup of hot tap water or boiling water from the kettle.  Have a spritzer bottle with filtered water handy.  Use a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet to transfer your bread to the baking stone.  Forming the dough onto parchment the size of your peel or stone and using a long pair of tongs to grasp the far end of the parchment makes a safe and effective method of transferring your dough into the hot oven.
Festive Bread Wreath
Pour water into the pans on the bottom and use the spritzer bottle to steam the sides and back of your oven every 30 seconds for the first five minutes of baking time.  Half way through the baking time, use your tongs to rotate the parchment 180° for even browning.  Keep an eye on your loaves because the stone will finish the job quickly.  When nicely browned on all sides, remove to a cooling rack using your peel and tongs and the parchment.  You can use a quick-read thermometer to test the center of the dough, which should measure about 210° F.
Homemade Breadsticks

Artisanal French bread, the traditional recipe, is known as a "lean loaf" because it contains so little fat, and only of the healthy, monosaturated kind. You can actually lose weight eating this bread! Commercial loaves typically contain a great deal of fat in the interest of prolonging the shelf life of the bread--to keep it from drying out. The French bread will not keep well unless you freeze it once it has cooled; fortunately, you can't tell the difference after it has defrosted. You can allow it to defrost on a rack, or you can reheat it in an oven or toaster oven for a few minutes, depending on the thickness of the loaf. Freeze any that won't be eaten the same day, and defrost as much as you need for each meal.

For more inspiration, visit The Fresh Loaf forum.
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