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.”
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.
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.
The ingredients came together beautifully. I kneaded with joy until smooth (about 6 minutes).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Baguettes certainly occupy a primary place in the world of French breads, but you will want this New Orleans French bread on your table.