“A fine loaf of plain French bread, the long crackly kind a Frenchman tucks under his arm as he hurries home to the family lunch, has a very special quality. Its inside is patterned with holes almost like Swiss cheese, and when you tear off a piece it wants to come sideways; it has body, chewability, and tastes and smells of the grain. Plain French bread contains only flour, water, salt, and yeast, because that is the law in France. The method, however, is up to each individual baker.”
— Julia Child, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two”
So begins Julia Child’s 20-page recipe for Pain Français, or Plain French Bread. This recipe is legendary among bakers, both amateur and professional alike, and provided a starting point for the American artisan bread movement. In celebration of what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday, Wild Yeast and the Bread Baking Babes take on this iconic recipe. As Julia wrote herself, it was “one of the most difficult, elaborate, frustrating and satisfying challenges I have ever undertaken.”
The recipe for Pain Français can be found here, though without the accompanying drawings, and Julia’s 3-page explication of flour, ovens, sour dough, and equipment. For that, you’ll have to return to the original source. She further instructs, “We therefore suggest that you do not attempt your first bread-making spree in a hot kitchen… pick a dry day and a dry room, then, for your first venture. In other words, make everything as easy as possible for yourself.” As for me, I’m looking forward to when the days become dry and the kitchen cools enough to spend time in her company and try it out myself.
Happy birthday, Julia, and thank-you for sharing your life so generously with us.