Who doesn’t love French bread… crisp, crunchy crust covering the soft chewy bread inside? Did you know that French bread only has water, flour, salt and yeast in it? Amazing that such bland ingredients can yield something so delicious. Now imagine it hot from your own oven complete with the intoxicating aroma of bread wafting through your house, greeting your family as they return from work, sporting practice or whatever they are doing.
Warning: Once you make this you will never go back to grocery store French bread.
Bonus: You can freeze the loaves you don’t use and toss them in a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes whenever you need a loaf. Warm, delicious, homemade French bread in minutes.
When we moved to California just over two years ago, I wasn’t working and I had the time to make fabulous home made lunches and dinners pretty much every day. Honestly, the most time consuming part of that was finding and often perfecting the recipes that I wanted in my rotation. French bread was one of the first things that I worked on because we use a lot of that. I will walk you through it and you can see how easy it is.
Loading Bread Maker
This recipe takes about 3 minutes to load your ingredients into your bread maker. Start by adding your hot- from- the -tap water, salt and bread flour (make sure it is bread flour), then make a well in your flour so the yeast stays on top and add your yeast. Set the bread maker to the dough setting, push start and do whatever you want for 90 minutes. As always, I am giving you the measurement of flour as well as the weight. I always weigh my flour but if you measure, be careful to do it accurately.
Shaping the Dough
When the dough cycle is done it will take you about 10 minutes to shape them into loaves (don’t worry if the first ones aren’t as pretty as you expect, that will come with time and the flavor will still be crazy good).
I use my scale and divide the dough into 4 equal portions. I do this partially due to a little OCD but mostly so that they cook evenly because they are the same size. Depending on the size of the loaves that you want, you can divide them into as many portions as you want.
I stretch and roll each portion into kind of a rope that is the length I want, maybe about 12 or 13 inches. I then use the palm of my hand and flatten the dough to get air bubbles out and then roll it up tightly, tucking the ends inside and pinch to seal the seam. I want it to not have any openings in the seams. Roll it around to get a nice shape, then place them seam side down on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or sprayed with cooking spray.
Cover them with a clean cloth and set them aside for 30 to 45 minutes in a draft free warmish spot to rise. Don’t leave them too much longer than 60 minutes for rising.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Put an egg white in a bowl and add about 1 1/2 tablespoon of water to it and mix with a fork until combined. Now take a clean razor blade or very sharp, thin bladed knife. Make about 4 cuts across (short way) the top of your loaf, kind of at a diagonal. They should be about a quarter to half of an inch deep and try to be quick, don’t saw at it. Now, using your pastry brush, gently brush the egg white mixture onto your loaf.
This is important: To get the crispy, crunchy, signature crust that you expect from French bread, you need to add moisture to the beginning of your bake cycle. Since I don’t have a steam oven (yet) and I am assuming you do not either, I use a clean spray bottle that I fill with cold water and I gently spray the top of the loaves before I put them in the oven. Then I spray the sides of the oven and the doors with water for a few seconds when I put the loaves in the preheated oven and shut the door. I have never had a problem with this hurting my oven and I use it on both my gas and electric oven, but I am not guaranteeing that so if you are concerned look below for another option to get the moisture aspect . As soon as I get the bread in the oven, and close the door, I turn the oven down to 450 degrees. You want it to bake hot and moist for the first little bit so you need the oven at 500 when you start, to account for the heat you will lose when you open the door to bake them. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size and shape of your loaves. The bread will be a light golden brown.
Another option for getting the moisture aspect without spraying water in your oven: Place a cast iron pan on the bottom rack while your oven is heating and just before you put your bread in, dump a cup of ice cubes in the pan. Still gently spray your loaves with water if you can before you put them in your oven. Be as quick as you can with this process to trap as much steam in the oven as possible. Caution: Be careful not to get burned with the steam, keep your face back and use hot pads on your hands.
Wrap any leftover (cooled) loaves in foil or put them in a zip lock bag and place them in the freezer. Heat your oven to 400 and reheat from frozen for about 10 to 12 minutes.
There are many options beyond plain french bread with this recipe. I make Italian herb, garlic Parmesan, jalapeno cheddar, rosemary olive and many more. I will post some ideas for making it into other things later. Practice on this and I will share my jalapeno cheddar(my husband’s favorite) in a week or two.
- 1 3/4cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water-(not too hot to stick your finger in)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 1/2 cups (1 lb 12.8 oz.) bread flour
- 3 3/8 teaspoon quick rise yeast
- 1 egg white
- 1 1/2 teaspoon water
- Place first three ingredients in the bread pan in order given.
- Make a well in the flour and measure the yeast into the well (to keep it dry until the machine mixes it in).
- Set the bread machine on the dough setting and push start. Make sure that it reads 1:30.
- Take a peek inside to make sure the dough is kneading. I have occasionally forgotten to put the kneader piece back on after cleaning it and your bread won't knead without it.
- Do something else for 90 minutes while you wait for the dough to be ready.
- At 90 minutes, remove the dough from the pan.
- Separate into four even chunks of dough .
- Roll each piece out to about a 13 inch log or rope.
- Flatten each log with the palm of your hand to get rid of any air bubbles.
- Roll it back up lengthwise, tucking the ends in as you go.
- Pinch the seams closed and roll it until it is a smooth log.
- Set it seam side down on a greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet.
- Cover with a clean towel and set it in a draft free, warm spot to rise.
- Let it rise 30-45 minutes.
- At about 30 minutes preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
- When your bread is risen and the oven is preheated, with a clean razor blade or sharp, thin knife, cut about 4 slits crosswise about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep at a slight diagonal in your dough.
- Mix the egg white and 1 1/2 tablespoons water together and using a pastry brush, brush it on the loaves.
- Have a clean spray bottle with cold water in it ready. Lightly spray the loaves with the water.
- Open the oven door and slide your pan of bread in.
- With the water bottle quickly spray the oven door and sides of the oven with the water and shut the door quickly. (I have not had a problem with this but I do not guarantee that this won't affect your oven so if you are concerned at all, look in my post for an alternative option.) The moisture is important to get the crispy crust on the outside of your bread.
- As soon as you close the oven door, turn your oven down to 450 degrees.
- Bake for about 15 minutes or until a light golden brown.