French Bread and a New Oven Test

Finally, we’ve replaced the old, tired, and basically broken gas oven with a new model. The oven has been on its last legs for a while now, with a maximum heat far below what I would prefer for bread baking, and we were long overdue for an upgrade. Obviously, the best thing to test out the new oven is a few loaves of bread.

I decided on a French bread based on Peter Reinhart’s recipe, with a shorter proof because of the hot weather. The dough itself still overproofed – my fault for not paying enough attention and trying to paint the kitchen at the same time – but the end result was still far better than anything out of the old oven.

The finished baguette -the “ears” are not as open as I would like due to over proofing the dough, but the colour and texture is still great

The oven reached its maximum temperature in 10 minutes, held in the steam whilst the loaves began baking, and gave a consistent and delicious dark golden-brown crust. Even over-proofed, there was a significant amount of “oven spring”, especially in the smaller loaves.

One of the smaller rolls, which rose slightly better than the baguettes (but were still slightly over proofed)

French bread – makes 3 small baguettes, or a combination of shapes

Pâte fermentée

  • 140g plain flour
  • 140g strong white bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 1.5g (1/2 tsp) instant yeast
  • 185g cold water


  • All of the pâte fermentée
  • 140g plain flour
  • 140g strong white bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 1.5g (1/2 tsp) instant yeast
  • 185g lukewarm water
  1. Combine the ingredients for the pâte fermentée, knead for 4-6 minutes, and place into an oiled bowl. This is basically a complete bread dough, but will be used in the final recipe as an “old dough” to improve the flavour of the final loaves. Bulk ferment for 2-3 hours, until risen, and then either use immediately, or de-gas slightly and refrigerate for up to three days.
  2. If using refrigerated pâte fermentée, remove from the fridge 1 hour prior to using and cut into a dozen small pieces.
  3. Combine the pâte fermentée with all of the remaining ingredients, and knead on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place into an oiled bowl, cover with cling film or a tea towel, and bulk ferment for 2 hours.
  4. Divide and shape the dough. For baguettes, first make a bâtard shape, rest for 5 minutes, then stretch gently by rolling the dough back and forth. To make the small loaves pictured here, shape the dough first into small boules, rest for 5 minutes, then roll out gently, applying more pressure at the ends.
  5. Place loaves seam side up onto a floured linen couche or tea towel, as shown below, and proof for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to max with a baking dish on the bottom. Just before baking, tip one cup of boiling water into the baking dish to create steam. Turn the loaves onto a baking tray dusted with flour or semolina, and place onto the middle shelf of the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 230°C, and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the baking tray if necessary for an even bake, and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and cool before eating. These loaves are best eaten on the day of baking.
French bread dough in the “bulk ferment” stage after 2 hours.
Dividing and shaping for baguettes (above) and small rolls (below)
French bread proofing on a linen couche
Hours of excitement provided by watching the dough bake through the crystal clear glass of the new oven door…

Light spelt sandwich loaf

I’ve been fairly slack in the bread making department lately. Every now and again I seem to reach a point where there are enough odd scraps of bread in the freezer to keep me going for a couple of weeks; however, I just reached the end of that time and found myself in need of a quick and easy loaf that could be put together in a few hours – sourdough this is not.

Combining wholemeal spelt with strong white bread flour both lightens the texture and makes the dough easier to work, and the little bit of sugar in the recipe gives the yeast an extra boost. There are other ways to speed the process – increase the temperature of the dough or the room, for example – but I don’t really like to sacrifice too much flavour for time.

This time around there wasn’t as much oven spring as I would have liked, so the dough did not rise as much as usual. I later found out that my suffering old oven has started to pack in… More on that in a later post.

Teaspoon measurements refer to Australian sizes.


Light spelt sourdough makes one loaf
110g strong white flour
225g wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp yeast
12g butter, melted
225g lukewarm water

1. Combine all of the ingredients and mix to combine
2. Knead on a clean surface for 10-15 min, until the dough is smooth and elastic
3. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film, and rest for 2 hours or until doubled in size
4. Tip dough out onto a clean surface. Shape into a rectangle and then roll up, sealing the seam tightly. Place into a greased 900g loaf tin and cover loosely with cling film
5. Proof for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until the loaf has risen about 2cm above the lip of the tin. Preheat oven to 230C.
6. Bake for 15 min, then reduce the temperature to 200C and bake for a further 15-20 min, until the loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom
7. Cool on a wire rack