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Crusty French Boules

Photo: John Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr
Hands-on time 28 mins
Total time 52 hrs, 20 mins
Yield Serves 24 (serving size: 1 slice)
Spraying the dough with water produces a supercrisp crust. For best flavor, allow the pâte fermentée to rest for the full 48 hours. But you can chill it for as little as 8 hours.


  • Pâte fermentée:
  • 5.63 ounces all-purpose flour, divided (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • Cooking spray
  • Dough:
  • 3/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 4 ounces bread flour (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal

Nutrition Information

  • calories 82
  • fat 0.3 g
  • satfat 0.1 g
  • monofat 0.0 g
  • polyfat 0.1 g
  • protein 2.5 g
  • carbohydrate 17 g
  • fiber 0.6 g
  • cholesterol 0.0 mg
  • iron 1.1 mg
  • sodium 148 mg
  • calcium 3 mg

How to Make It

  1. To prepare the pâte fermentée, weigh or lightly spoon 5 ounces (about 1 cup) all-purpose flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine 5 ounces all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup warm water, and beat at low speed until mixture is thoroughly combined. Add enough of the remaining 4 tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough just begins to pull away from sides of bowl. Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes. Place dough in a small bowl coated with cooking spray. Place a piece of plastic wrap coated with cooking spray directly on dough. Refrigerate 48 hours or up to 3 days.

  2. Remove pâte fermentée from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

  3. To prepare the dough, place 3/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon yeast. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes or until bubbles form. Add pâte fermentée to yeast mixture; let stand 10 minutes. Weigh or lightly spoon 9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups) and 4 ounces bread flour (about 2/3 cup) into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add flours and 1 teaspoon salt to bowl; beat at low speed until flour is incorporated. Increase mixer to medium speed, and beat for 6 minutes. (Dough should form a ball.)

  4. Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; lightly coat dough with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm, dry place, free from drafts, for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down, and divide into 2 equal portions. Knead each portion for 1 minute. Shape each dough portion into a 5-inch round by pulling the sides down, pinching and tucking them under the bottom center of dough, forming a smooth, taut surface on the top. Place dough rounds on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Lightly coat surface of dough with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 1 hour and 15 minutes or until doubled in size.

  5. Place a small ovenproof saucepan with 3 inches of water directly on the floor of oven. Preheat oven to 450°.

  6. Uncover dough. Spray dough lightly with water. Make 4 (4-inch) cuts 1/4 inch deep in dough to form a grid across top of each loaf using a sharp knife. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes. Remove water pan from oven. Bake an additional 15 minutes or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped. Cool on a wire rack. Cut each boule, crosswise, into 12 slices.