New World Sourdough: New Orleans French Bread

New World Sourdough is a 2020 cookbook by Bryan Ford. I will not be reproducing Ford’s recipes in my blog. Read his blog, buy his book, support his work.

There are no boulangeries in suburban Alabama. Growing up there wasn’t even a Panera. Our local bakery was the grocery store, from Food World to Winn Dixie to Publix.

While the quality of each store’s baked goods varied, one constant was the ever present loaves of white, crusty “French bread.” I didn’t see a baguette until I was an adult, and I’ve never understood the difference between that classic French bread as what I’ve always known as “French bread.”

Top left: long, whole loaf in clear bag. Bottom left: slices of long loaf. Middle left: the words French Bread. Top right: Medium length loaf in clear bag. Bottom right: slices of medium loaf. Middle right: the word Baguette.
If you can tell a significant difference between these Publix offerings, please let me know.

To that point, I think this recipe cleared up the confusion. With the name “New Orleans French Bread,” Artisan Bryan signals that this loaf is not a European classic. Like chop suey, English muffins, and Russian dressing, French bread is an American creation. A more exact analog is Cuban bread, which originated in Florida.

This recipe calls for an extremely stiff starter of pure bread flour. I obliged, and Bradley came through like a champ. I’ve never mixed a starter that felt more a dough.

Hand holds a clear glass jar, which we see inside of. There is a lump of wet white flour starter.
Bradley never looked so doughy.

There are only small bits of sugar and oil to enrich this dough, but they had a huge impact on the final texture, flavor, softness, and longevity.

Counter with ingredients displayed. From left: bowl with vegetable oil, electric water kettle, jar of starter, bowl of salt, bowl of sugar, scale with cambro with flour.
Future French bread.

The ingredients came together beautifully. I kneaded with joy until smooth (about 6 minutes).

Left: mound of unkneaded dough on rubber mat. A grey cat sits on a chair pulled up to the table. Right: ball of kneaded dough on table with bench scraper. No cat.
The dough was too sticky to knead on the mat, which kept pulling upon every turn.
Left: recently kneaded dough in cambro. It doesn't touch the sides. Right: same dough, but it has expanded to touch the sides and is shiny and smooth.
The only difference between these two images is temperature and time: two essentials in bread baking.

I still have not mastered Ford’s shaping technique. The tubes end up uneven and longer than desired. This dough was manageable nevertheless. As opposed to other recipes, I can tell the shaping issues were all user error.

Ford directs bakers to cover the dough with a damp towel for the final proof. I would recommend using flour. The dough absolutely stuck to the cloth, compromising the integrity of the loaf at uneven points.

Top: rolls of unproofed dough on floured parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bottom: same set up, but the dough is expanded after proofing. Also, each roll has bits of pulled up and broken dough.
The tugs and breaks are not a traditional part of the proofing process.

This bread is, dare I say, perfect. The crust is crisp without a hint of toughness. The crumb is soft and fluffy. It would indeed be perfect for a po’ boy, but if couldn’t resist eating it straight.

Two loaves of bread with golden brown crusts, sitting on a wire rack in a baking sheet.
They may not look perfect, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

There is a particular quality to this bread that I think is sweetness (identifying flavors is not my strong suit). I could imagine it being too sweet for some, and a reduction in sugar would be a simple solution.

GIF of hand holding sliced open piece of bread and lightly squeezing and releasing. It moves like a sponge.
The sponginess of this bread deserved GIF treatment.

Even my cat Ferris loved it. He’s never shown an interest in bread, but insisted I share. I’m not sure what this says about the bread or the cat.

Bue plate with breakfast sandwich of fried eggs and cheese.
Egg and cheese po’ boy.

Baguettes certainly occupy a primary place in the world of French breads, but you will want this New Orleans French bread on your table.

Next week: pretzel rolls

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