Updated: May 22, 2020
Yields 2 loaves
Prep Time: Variable, 1.5 to 2.5 hours
Bake Time: 30 mins
In American terms, 'French bread' generally refers to a loaf that is longer than it is wider and has a crusty exterior and soft interior. Do not confuse this with a French baguette which has a strict definition and composition. A French baguette usually is much thinner and longer. It is only made from flour, water, yeast, and salt. I was even surprised to learn that it is regulated by the French government as far as setting the price and ensuring producers meet the composition requirements!
Ok, so back to talking about 'French bread', do not confuse it with Italian bread which generally has a higher sugar and fat content. This 'French bread' recipe like most, contains a minimal amount of sugar and oil. It is so easy and absolutely delicious. My family can't seem to get enough of it and I have lost count of how many times I have made it. This is an easy-to-follow recipe and I am so excited that you want to try it. Happy baking!
2 1/4 cups warm water, 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon instant or active dry yeast
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or or any other oil of your choice
5 - 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (See note after step 5 below)
1 tablespoon salt
1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water, then add the yeast and stir to dissolve. If using instant yeast, proceed immediately to step 2, if using active dry yeast, wait about 10 mins for the yeast to get activated and look foamy.
2. Fit you hand or stand mixer with a dough hook.
3. Measure out a 4 cup portion of your flour. Add the salt to this and mix, you don't have to thoroughly combine them. Add the 4 cups of flour and salt mixture to the yeast solution, one cup at a time, mixing with the dough hook.
4. Keep mixing until your dough starts to take shape and comes together.
5. Turn onto a floured surface and knead. Use the remaining 1 1/2 cup of your flour for dusting the kneading surface and adding to the dough as needed to form a dough ball that kneads without sticking.
Note: Be cautious. You will be tempted to add more flour but try not to. The more you knead, the more structure the bread builds and the less flour you need. I usually end up using a total of 5 cups of flour in this recipe, sometimes, 5 1/2. Feel free to use up to 6 cups if you absolutely need to but don't exceed 6.
6. Spray a large mixing bowl with cooking spray. Transfer your dough to this bowl, then swirl it around to coat the dough surface with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and proof in a warm place till your dough doubles in size.
Tips to get a Good Rise: Yeast needs warmth to grow. I have found that covering the bowl with plastic wrap and leaving it to rise in a microwave (turned off, of course) that has a cup of hot water in the corner provides a warm moist environment and this way, my dough doubles in about 1 hour this way. To get a faster rise, use the oven proofing method. To do this, I turn my oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Place my dough in a heat safe container, cover with a moist towel and set in the oven. I also leave the oven door cracked open. You have the option to keep the oven door closed if you turn off the oven after 2 minutes. Proofing takes about 30 mins or less with the oven method.
7. After the first proof, place your dough on an oiled surface (I spray the surface with cooking spray). Divide into 2 equal halves. Roll each half out into a rectangle. Roll into a loaf shape. Fold the edges over and place on a parchment line baking sheet with seams down.
8. Spray over the finished dough with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and proof in a warm place until dough is almost doubled. It takes about an hour. But if you use the oven proofing method described above, it takes about 20-30 mins. Just make sure you cover with a wet towel, not plastic wrap.
9. After the second proof, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
10. Using a very sharp knife, razor blade (with or without a baker's lame), make some deep slashes over the loaves. I use a new scalpel blade (Shh..)
11. Bake both loaves for 30 mins until you have a nice golden crust.
Tips for a Crusty Loaf:
Method 1: Throw about 6 large cubes of ice at the bottom of your oven at the same time you place the loaves to bake. This creates a steam that crusts your bread.
Method 2: Preheat your oven with broiler pan or cake pan on the bottom rack. While the oven is preheating, boil a cup of water. When you place the loaves to bake, pour the cup of hot water into hot broiler pan or cake pan on the bottom rack and shut oven quickly to trap steam. DO NOT slam oven door, least you deflate your dough.