Light, subtly sweet, fluffy and surrounded by a crisp crust, homemade French bread is simply delicious. Using only a few ingredients, the bread takes practice to perfect, but these tips will help you make golden loaves of goodness at home.
Choose Quality Ingredients
French bread contains only water, yeast, salt and flour. Even though the ingredient list is simple, don’t skimp on quality. Choose high quality bread flour, use distilled water if what comes out of your tap has a taste, spend an extra buck on kosher flour and buy fresh yeast.
Folding the Dough
Instead of punching the dough down once it ferments, gently stretch and fold it into the thirds. Fold it again, like a letter, in the other direction before placing it back in the bowl.
Scoring the Bread
A traditional French baguette is scored with lines that blossom across the crust when baked. Scour your bread using diagonal lines that go about ½ inch or deeper into the loaf.
Basic French Bread Recipe
Spread ¼ cup of high quality bread flour on your counter top or workspace. Add 3 ¾ cups of flour to a mixing bowl, then add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of quick rising dry yeast. Slowly add 1 ½ cups of warm, not boiling, water and mix until the dough comes together. Knead the mass with a dough hook for two minutes. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of flour. If it is too dry, moisten it with 1 tablespoon of water. Let the dough sit for five minutes.
Mix the dough for another three minutes, then place the dough on the floured counter. Knead by hand, incorporating more flour when needed. Stop kneading when the dough is tight, satiny, smooth and in a nice ball shape.
Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Turn it over so each side is thinly coated with oil. Top the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest and rise for 1 ½ hours in a warm place. During this time, the dough should ferment and double in size.
After the dough has risen for one hour, place your pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. Let the dough sit for another 30 minutes.
Once the dough has completely risen, fold it into thirds instead of punching it down. Gently stretch the dough as you fold, then turn it and fold three times again on the other side.
Divide the dough in half. Stretch out one half until it becomes a large rectangle. Fold it into thirds again, then pinch the sides shut to create a seal. If you do not pinch enough, the bread will come out of the oven lopsided. During this step, avoid kneading the dough. Doing so will release the gas inside that formed during the rising stage.
Flip the bread over so the seam rests on your work surface. Cover the dough with a warm, damp kitchen towel while you shape the other half of the dough. Let the loaves sit for another 30 minutes, then use a double-edged razor or sharp paring knife to scour the bread diagonally with three or four shallow slashes.
Finally, take the pizza stone or baking sheet out of the oven and place the dough on it. Toss ½ cup of water on the oven floor to create steam, then bake the bread for 25 minutes. Remove it when the crust is golden brown. Let it cool, then enjoy your freshly baked French bread.
Rustic French Bread
To watch an artisan baker create country-style, rustic French bread, check out this video.