August 25, 2020

White Bread

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold

I'm so happy today!  Today I made and baked a bread using a new method and it came out really fabulous and was easy to make (mostly)!  

Sooo...confession first...I'm a bit obsessed by bread baking (and eating!) and have, over the years, baked bread time and again.  In the beginning my efforts resulted mostly in what I fondly call 'brick breads'...true story, I once almost broke a tooth foolishly bravely trying to eat a slice of one of my handmade 'brick breads'!

Wind forward to nowadays and many, many breads later and I can finally happily supply my little family with homemade yummy fragrant bread stuffs, yay!  (Check out all the way down for more about our other yummilicious breads!)  

But the one thing that I could never be satisfied with was the making and baking of a basic white bread to use for, you know, basic things, like sandwiches or just a toast with some yummy butter.  Previous attempts required too much work for so so results.  Finally, however, I'm super pleased to announce that basic bread quest has been conquered!  My family are so happy with it, I'm so happy with it!  

This Richard Bertinet White Bread is a bread that knocks it out of the ball park for flavor, has incredibly light super airy tender crumb, excellently crusty crust, it toasts like a dream and perhaps most surprisingly, this beautiful bread was pretty easy to achieve!

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold

Alright, more full disclosure...I'm a lurker on bread making forums, reading eagerly but not yet having the bread chops (or slices?) to actually speak out.  Bread forums are where I discovered Milk Bread Tangzhong whereby a milk roux is prepared and mixed with the dough to produce the soft pillowy sweet bread beloved by Asians and of course, the famous No Knead Bread.  

While on a recent lurk, I saw a mention of a 'French Fold' method of bread making.  What was heck that?  I'd never heard of it before.  A quick search and soon I was watching a video of Richard Bertinet making bread without kneading, rather using a most strange method of lifting, then slapping very wet dough on the work table and finally folding over.  Lift, slap, fold, repeat.  No kneading, no machine.  Just lift, slap and fold?  

I was captivated (total bread nerd, I know) and determined to try this method the very same day.  And so lucky a girl am I!  Look at the bread that resulted!  Look at that beautiful, beautiful crumb!  Oh I could weep for joy!

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold

I've sometimes wondered why I've always returned to bread, even after the many disasters misunderstandings in the early years of attempts.  But I've always heard again the siren call and returned to try again.  I think there's just something fundamental and grounding about this concoction of, at its most basic, flour, water, yeast and salt, and the magic that transforms these humble and innocuous ingredients into the addictively fragrant loaves of tender softness encased in crunchy crust.

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold
My dough after mixing: very goopy

One reason I just had to try this method out right away was because the dough was a very wet dough.  One rookie mistake I made for a long time was that my bread dough was too dry.  I finally realized that a wetter dough is more able to stretch, and therefore to rise.  A wetter dough is the key to a good rise!  

Unfortunately wet dough is almost impossible to handle.  Goopy stuff.  So this wet dough method ( 70% hydration with no extra flour added) intrigued me very much indeed.  It promised to turn goopy into dough! 

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold
Dough gooped onto non floured working surface

Once you've  mixed up your goopy dough it's poured onto the table.  Don't flour your working surface!  Not even a speck!  The dough is going to be so wet it sticks to everything, including your hands.  Icky sticky doughy fingers.  Which is exactly what we want. 

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold
Dough slapped onto working surface, sticking while you pull up and then fold over

Lift the dough, holding onto the bit nearest you, and then slap it on the table.  Being very wet the end that meets the table will stick to it.  Pull the dough towards you, stretching it.  Then fold the dough over in half.  Repeat, turning the dough 90° every once in a while and using a flexible scraper to scrap the sticky dough together as needed.  

At first it will seem impossible.  But keep going, I promise it gets better!  

Better yet check out Richard Bertinet himself doing the french fold here (short version) and here (long version).  Amazing man!  He's the dough!

Note:  Interestingly, a similar method is used to make the fish balls and meat balls so beloved for hot pot and fish ball noodle dishes here in HK.  The meat is pureed and then scooped up and slammed back into the bowl with vigor.  This aerates the paste and transforms the texture.  Check out our recipe for Homemade shrimp ball paste!

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold
Dough comes together

Fascinatingly, the more you fling the dough, stretch and fold, each time folding more and more air in, the more the dough starts to behave.  Soon, well maybe soonish, what was once a wild mess of stickiness become an orderly and luscious mound of not so sticky soft dough.  And the dough stuck on the working surface and your hands will mostly magically disappear into said dough.   

Do know that the first time trying this 'french fold' method is probably going to get a wee bit ugly.  And I might have teared up a time or two.  You're going to think that the stupid sticky dough is just stupid and forever sticky and stupid sticky.  But once you get the hang of the throw, it's gonna take less and less time and effort plus it's kinda fun to fling that dough around, show it who's the boss.  

I've done this twice now and the second time was waaaaay easier.  And the beautiful airy crumb of this bread is WORTH EVERY SECOND OF PAIN!

basic bread,recipe,white bread,french fold
Dough 1st rise, before
basic bread,recipe,white bread,french fold
Dough 1st rise, after

Getting control of myself...deep breath...and...time to let the dough rest.  Did you know that resting the dough is super important?  When the dough rests the gluten relaxes into long loose strings and this will help the rise of the bread.  For this first rest of an hour I've taken photos of the before and after to show the rise.  The dough has doubled in size.

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold

After the first rise is done, the dough, now relaxed into an oh so soft and tender state, needs to be shaped into its final shape and placed in the baking tin for its second and final rise.  Scoop the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, press to release gas and flatten out to the length of your pan and then fold over the two ends (photo above), pressing the seam each time to stick the dough together.  Then fold the dough  over on itself again and pressed firmly to close.  

Your loaf is now shaped and should be nice and rounded with the skin of the dough appearing tight and smooth, other than where the seam is that is.

basic bread,recipe,white bread,french fold
Dough before 2nd rise
basic bread,recipe,white bread,french fold
Dough after 2nd rise

The shaped dough with its nice taut skin is placed seam side down in its baking loaf tin and left for its final rise.  The photos show the beginning of the rise and the end.  You can see that it has doubled in size.  A final dusting of flour gives it the characteristic floury top.  Finally, after all this tender loving care, the dough is slipped into a hot, hot, oven, given triple blasts of water spray (for better crust) and baked til golden.  

Tip:  When bread is rising it must be kept covered and away from drafts.  I like to encase the dough in a large plastic bag that I tie up to make it completely air tight.  Then I pull the bag to dome up away from the dough to avoid the plastic touching the dough as it rises.  A cheap and reliable way to cover the dough.

I can't say enough how pleased I am with this bread.  For this kind of basic bread I've never achieved this kind of crumb EVER.  Plus the bread tasted fantastic.  And the whole thing was seemingly effortless!  I mean I made this bread the same day I discovered this method and it worked right away!!  

You only have to get used to the method of folding instead of kneading.  The folding is a technique that needs to be learned, but it's not difficult or tiring and it doesn't require a lot of strength.  It's kinda fun, actually, and lets you imagine that you're beating the next person on your most annoying list.  

The final white bread is AMAZING: tender, with beautifully airy crumb and a crisp crunchy crust.  And delicious.  And it lasts well.   And toasts like a dream.  What can I say?  I love it.  We loved it.  For us this is THE BREAD!

Psst: I've made this bread three times already and the rise has been perfect everytime, YAY!

basic bread, recipe, white bread, french fold
Basic White Bread Recipe
(adapted from recipe in DOUGH by Richard Bertinet)   
(makes 1 loaf) Prep: 12 mins  Rise: 2 hours  Bake: 30 mins



Add flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water to mixing bowl.  Use flexible scraper and hands to mix the dough thoroughly.  It will be wet, sticky and shaggy.  Use scraper to scrape out onto a NON-FLOURED working surface.

Use fingers scrape and pick up dough. (It's gonna be messy!) Grip hold of the side of the dough nearest you.  Swing dough up and slap down against your working surface.  The dough will stick allowing you to pull/stretch the dough up and towards you.   Then fold the end of the dough you've got in your grip over the dough end stuck to the table, tucking it over and under.  

Repeat the lift, slap and fold, using the scraper every once in a while to scrap any dough sticking to the working surface back into the dough ball.  The dough will slowly come together after about 5 mins, sticking to itself and not the table or your hands (mostly).  Put in a bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface (emphasis on lightly).  Press gently with fingertips to deflate and spread dough out into a rectangle that is same length as your loaf pan.  Fold 1/3 of dough lengthwise over on itself, pressing firmly with fingers to stick dough together.  Repeat with other side.  Now fold the dough lengthwise on itself and press the seam firmly closed.  Place dough seam side down in buttered loaf pan.  

Cover and let rise one hour or until doubled in size.  Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).  

Sprinkle flour over top and slide into oven.  Squirt three blasts of misted water into the oven and quickly close the door.  Bake 425°F (220°C) for 30 mins or until golden.  Let cool on a rack for 30 mins before cutting.  If you can resist that long...enjoy!



  1. I have never tried making bread from scratch and I haven't had much luck with the breadmaker either. A few times, it's good, many times, I just want to cry! I can feel your satisfaction on making your own perfect bread! Thanks again, Ellen for a fabulous write up! Now, I am inspired to give it a try!

  2. Hey Julia - You're so right, making bread is such an emotional rollercoaster!! But worth it...😜 ellen