French Bread Recipe

Baguettes, Cooling on the Rack
Baguettes, Cooling on the Rack

Homemade French Bread from Your Kitchen

Real French bread, the long baguettes or the big, round boules, can't be made outside France. Just as real French cooking can be done only within the artisanal system of production and distribution there, real French bread can be baked only within the same environment. Most of the rest of us, for instance, don't have stone ovens with five hundred years' of yeast permeating their surroundings, nor do we have French ingredients readily available. Don't let that discourage you, though. You can make it so only a finicky gourmand would notice, and increasingly the French themselves are compromising their traditional cookery for the conveniences of modern, mass market foodstuffs, so you might say French food ain't what it used to be anyway. Yours will be close as makes no difference.

At first glance, making your own French bread looks difficult. Nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn't take much hands-on time at all, nor does it require a high level of baking skill. You mostly just work at it for a few minutes using easy techniques, then you walk away and let it do its own thing. Anyone with an oven and a few fundamental kitchen items like bowls and baking sheets can do this, so don't be intimidated.

First, a word about flour. It's not all the same. For French bread, you want a protein content of eleven or twelve percent, so read labels. Try different brands. What I have settled on here in America is King Arthur's All-Purpose, or Sir Galahad, or alternatively a 2:1 blend of AP and bread flours, but your taste may vary. Experiment. American all purpose flour tends to yield a "crackling" crust, bread flour a "crusty" crust. Both are good.

Next, a word about water. It's good to filter it. You don't have to, but even if your town's has no discernible taste it has chemicals in it that may react with others in mixing and baking to add mysterious flavors. I just draw mine from the charcoal-filtered drinking water dispenser on my refrigerator.

A stern word about salt: never, ever use adulterated salt. Stick with kosher, plain sea, or some other salt without added iodine or anticaking agent. That stuff tastes vile.

Measure your flour and water by weight, not volume. A baker's formula of 70%, i.e. seven parts liquid to ten dry (let me emphasize that's by weight), is a guide to start. You want a dough wetter than yeast breads usually have, which makes it hard to handle. I knead it in my Kitchen Aid mixer, but if you have anxieties or angers to work out pound the beast. Just keep your hands wet and a scraper handy.

French bread is simple bread, with basic ingredients and no arcane techniques. It has only water, flour, yeast and salt in it. It uses less yeast and a long rise to develop its intoxicating texture and taste.

This method uses steam to develop that special crust you want on French bread. And now, on with the show ...

Ingredients

This is for a pair of baguettes or one boule.

One pound of flour
A generous eleven ounces of lukewarm water
One teaspoon of salt
One scant teaspoon of dry yeast (I like SAF instant)

Procedure

Mix it together and knead it for five or ten minutes. You'll know it's ready when it becomes smooth and elastic. In my Kitchen Aid, it's done when it climbs up the kneading paddle. Put it into an oiled bowl, turn it over so it's coated with the oil all over, and leave it out at normal room temperature covered with a slightly damp tea towel. Go off and do something else for a few hours. If you're gone longer than that, don't worry about it. The dough won't care. Let it expand at least 2-1/2 times in volume on the first rise. Don't cut that short, and don't put the dough into an especially warm place. The long rise is crucial to developing the right texture.

When you and it are ready, pour and prod it out onto a lightly floured surface. Do not knead again, in fact try to avoid expelling the bubbles by handling it as lightly as you can. Divide it if making baguettes, or leave it whole for a boule. Shape your loaves gently, holding them up to let them stretch out by their own weight. Put them onto a baking sheet you've both greased and dusted generously with corn meal, or lined with parchment paper. Cover them again, and let them rise until doubled, an hour or an hour and a half. You don't have to watch them. They'll do just fine on their own.

Toward the end of that time, put a pizza stone or big quarry tile, if you have one, on the middle rack of the oven, and a baking pan on the rack below it. Let it all heat up thoroughly to 425F. That will take at least twenty minutes. Put a kettle of water on the stove to boil. When it does, put some hot (not boiling, if the bottle is plastic or plain glass) water into a spray bottle.

Uncover your loaves and slash them lengthwise once, crosswise several times, with a very sharp knife or a razor blade. As quickly as you can, open the oven door and pour boiling water into the pan on the lower rack. It'll shoot steam vigorously, so be careful not to let your hand get scalded. If you put the baking stone into your oven, dust it with more corn meal, and then gently slide the loaves directly onto it (this is where that grease and corn meal on the pan come in handy, so the loaves don't stick too badly). If not, just put the sheet pan with the bread onto the upper rack. Working quickly, spray the sides and bottom of the oven with the bottle of water to create more steam, and close the door. Turn the heat down to 400. After half a minute, open the oven and spray it down again. Do that once more after another half minute, then leave the oven closed for ten minutes. By then, the loaves should be firm. Turn them around if your oven doesn't bake evenly. In another ten minutes turn them around again if you need to do that, then let them be. It will take about half an hour of total baking time, including those ten-minute intervals, for them to be done. When they look like they are, thump them to see if they're crusty and sound hollow, or if you're a dedicated fan of Alton Brown stick in a thermometer to see if they're 205 on the inside. Myself, I'm not that picky. I don't care if they're a little one way or the other.

Finish Your French Bread

By "finishing," I mean let it rest. When it comes out of the oven, put it onto a cooling rack for at least half an hour. That lets more moisture escape, slowly, and puts the final touch on that wonderful texture you like in French bread.

Of course, if you're like me, you ignore that advice now and then to cut a couple of slices, slather them in butter, and eat them hot from the oven. Sometimes, I just can't resist that, and I bet you can't, either. It's all right. It's your bread, and you can have it anyway you want.

Enjoy!

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Comments 22 comments

Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

Voted up, useful, interesting, and AWESOME! I don't think I've run across a recipe for French bread, so this is it for me. Thanks!


Attikos profile image

Attikos 5 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

Thank you for commenting and rating, Arlene. It took me a while to learn this method, but it has become one of my favorites. May all your bread be delectable!


Deb Welch 5 years ago

Attikos: I came back to vote - read your useful Hub the other day and ran out of time - Voted up. I am not a baker with yeast - I tried some bakery wheat French bread today at work in the break room and it was okay but not I imagine not as good as homemade. Thanks.


Attikos profile image

Attikos 5 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

I don't consider myself a baker, either, Deb, but I sure like bread, and what I can make is far better and a lot less expensive than anything I can buy in the stores.


jesusmyjoy profile image

jesusmyjoy 5 years ago from Bucyrus Ohio

yummy


Sky9106 profile image

Sky9106 5 years ago from A beautiful place on earth.

Good Morning to you Sir . I did not read this hub as yet ,but being the one that asked the question which you answered , just the way I knew it to be, I had to show my regard for what I believed to be the correct answer, the only category I follow hearsay in with the evil of this world being caused by whom my parents and grand parents called the Devil / Satan and I have grown to make my own personal comparison.

Thanks again Sir.

Bless.

PS. I will catch this french Toast soon.


Attikos profile image

Attikos 5 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

And a good morning to you as well, Sky! If you enjoy fresh, homemade bread, you may find this one of interest. I certainly like it.


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

Attikos, aye, a load of fine points to bread and how it should be done. I make my own, different style. sourdough with a particular flour and 11 year old starter that at times eats more flour than I do. I just returned from a 4.5 week away and with a large feeding and refrigerated it lived and is now getting it's full potency back. I froze a bit as well in case it needed a jump start. I thawed the starter and it revived as well. I baked a pon in the dutch oven and another in the clay oven of the clay oven that has around 12 years of age and adds to it's flavor. I need to do a pictured hub on it now. I fall back to a hub "DoloresMonet" and her recipe for cast iron over night no kneed bread and a few folds after an over night rise that is great to cut before rest a butter it up large and do the cheatin' eatin' on it. quite good for these old arther-itis front paws when they are hurting. Thanks for a direct hub and recipe,

Peace,

50


Attikos profile image

Attikos 5 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

And to you, 50 Caliber. When I was a boy, a friend had one of those 50 cal. muskets. We took it along the lake carp shooting. Splattered fish all over the place when we hit one.

A cousin of mine has a two hundred year old starter that saw our ancestors across the mountains. I've been meaning to get a jar of it.


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

I need to try this one; you make it sound so easy, and it's worded in a way that lends itself to daily life, as though making bread is what we do every day (which is as it should be). Voted up and interesting.


Attikos profile image

Attikos 4 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

Thank you, Marcy, and thanks for commenting. I do believe we'd all eat, live and feel better were we to spend a little time with our hands in a dough bowl.


Triimarc profile image

Triimarc 4 years ago from Salisbury, MD

Nicely done! A man after my own heart. Try it with 'home grown' leaven instead of commercial yeast. Takes a few days but gives a very rustic taste.

Again, nicely done!


Attikos profile image

Attikos 4 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

Thank you, Triimarc! Glad to meet another breadmaking aficionado! I have made sourdough the old fashioned way, capturing yeast from the air. I find it works better in warm weather than in the wintertime, and my schedule makes it difficult to keep a mother going. Maybe, some happy day, I'll have more time for it.


Denver5280Click profile image

Denver5280Click 4 years ago from Denver Colorado

Makes me hungry for french bread! Great writing about the history of what makes good bread!


Anjili profile image

Anjili 4 years ago from planet earth, a humanoid

I love the smell of freshly baked bread. I can almost smell you loaves at a distance. I bake mine often and the kids love it too. They even urge me to bake instead of buying. A cool recipe of french bread that needs to be tried. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and interesting.


Attikos profile image

Attikos 4 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

Enjoy them, Anjili! Nothing beats good, fresh bread. Thanks for commenting.


stricktlydating profile image

stricktlydating 4 years ago from Australia

Yum, sounds good to me!


Attikos profile image

Attikos 4 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

I find it so. Nothing beats good, fresh French bread, with its crunchy crust and chewy crumb.


Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

Im going to give this a whirl. Wish me luck!


Attikos profile image

Attikos 4 years ago from East Cackalacky Author

I will, Angela. Let us know how it turns out, and thanks for commenting!


HoneyBB profile image

HoneyBB 4 years ago from Illinois

I've never made my own bread but I love french bread and I will be trying this out someday soon. Your instructions are awesomely thorough so I'm sure I will have no problem whatsoever getting the job done. I will absolutely have to cut me a hot piece and slather butter on it as soon as it's done. Thanks for sharing. Voted ++


I AM the TRUTH 3 years ago from EVERYWHERE AT ALL TIMES

My friend thîs is fine bread. It makes me want a sandwich, and I don't eat bread a lot. Thumbs up.

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