Creole French Bread, also known as New Orleans French Bread, is not really French bread at all. French bread, in the form of the classic baguette, is a simple bread made with salt, yeast, flour and water. Creole French Bread is closer to an Italian bread, in that it is enriched or fortified with some form of fat, and usually a small amount of sugar. (Red Star yeast has an excellent concise run down of what fat adds to a loaf.)
If you do a quick check on the internet, you will find various recipes for this bread using a number of different fats. Commercial varieties often use vegetable shortening, though one of the most famous ones uses soy oil. Why such cheap ingredients? Because those folks are out to make a buck, and pennies matter. As a home baker not concerned with economies of scale, I use as high a quality of ingredient as possible. The following recipe, which I have made weekly for years, uses olive oil. This will make two baguettes, two po-boy buns, or a small loaf.
Creole French Bread
For the Dough:
1 teaspoon Salt
1 and 1/2 cups of All Purpose or Bread Flour (I like King Arthur Flour)
3/4 cup warm Water
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
For the Yeast:
2 Tablespoons warm Water
1 teaspoon organic Sugar
2 teaspoons instant Yeast (I end up buying two pound bags of Red Star regularly)
I make the dough in our thirty something year old Kitchenaid stand mixer-they weren’t kidding when they printed “Heavy Duty” on the side of the machine. Use the dough hook attachment, and mix until a ball of dough is formed.
The next step is the yeast mixture. I combine the three ingredients in a one cup measurer that I also use for the flour. Stir, and I let it sit until the mixture rises to the top of the measuring cup. That also gives the dough a little time to hydrate. Mix those together with the dough mixture, though a little additional flour is usually necessary to keep the dough from being overly sticky. Now it’s time for the rise.
Any oiled container will do to hold the dough for the first rise, but old school Southerners insist on wooden dough bowls. This one was made by Loyd George of Decatur, Alabama, out of Tulip Poplar. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel, and let rise. How long will depend on the temp of your kitchen. The general rule is to let it double in size, usually around an hour.
For baguettes/po-boy buns, a loaf must be formed by hand. Divide the dough in half, and form into an oval. Fold over once longways, and roll out the loafs from the middle outward. (King Arthur has a great tutorial showing how to do this.) For baguettes, it’s easier to put the loaves in a baguette pan; po-boy buns go onto a baking sheet, and are slightly flattened out. Loafs can go onto a baking sheet or a loaf pan. All must be covered with a towel, and allowed to rise again.
Here’s where the bread paths diverge. I cook po-boy buns at 375 degrees, loaves at 400, and baguettes at 450. Baguettes need to be slashed to keep from splitting open while baking, while slashing is optional for the loaves, and never done with po-boybuns. Cooking times are thirty minutes or more for buns and loaves, and twenty minutes or so for the baguettes.
The resulting bread should be crispy crunchy on the outside, and incredibly soft on the inside. The superiority of this bread to any commercial one will become apparent at the first bite. It only stays fresh for about a day, but can be frozen and warmed up with little noticeable change in quality. For one use of this bread, see my post on Creole Onion Soup. You’ll end up neglecting the soup for the bread.