Welcome to Steamy Kitchen!

Hi, I'm Jaden, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer specializing in fast, fresh and easy recipes for the home cook. Most of my recipes are modern Asian! About meFast, fresh & easy recipes for the home cook.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Baking the Perfect Loaf of French Bread

French Bread

Secrets to Perfect Loaf of French Bread in 3 Hours

Usually, my stand-by recipe is the No Knead Bread (because its so darn easy) but it does require you to mix the dough at least 12 hours prior. When I only have a three hours, this is my recipe which is based on trial-and-error from baking over 40 loaves in the past 8 months. The techniques are a combination of things I learned from Pamela Anderson (no not arm candy, the chef Pam Anderson!), the original No Knead Recipe published in the NY Times and Rose Levy Beranbaum (author of the Bread Bible)

Secret #1: Knead dough with dough hook for 2 minutes. Let it rest for 7 and then knead again for another 3 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, then your formula is 6 min-7 min-7 min. Letting the dough rest at this stage allows the gluten to relax, redistribute, and get all cozy. It results ultimately a smoother, well-mixed dough. After the brief rest, you’ll feel a difference in the dough. Its more supple and soft.

Secret #2: Pinch! When you form the dough into a loaf (see photo below) pinch all ends tightly to create a seal. Basically, you are creating surface tension so that the gas from the yeast (or as Alton Brown describes “When the yeast burps”) the dough expands up and out evenly. If I don’t create this surface tension, the dough in the oven will just go “blah” like Al Bundy on the couch. Something called gravity makes the dough expand down and flat.

Secret #3: Use a pizza stone, cast iron dutch oven or my favorite Pampered Chef Covered Baker. Just make sure that your loaf will fit into the vessel. Stone or cast iron retains heat and radiates the heat of the oven evenly. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, just use a good quality, thick baking sheet inverted.

Secret #4: Steam = thin, crunchy, beautiful crust. In the No Knead recipe, there is a high proportion of water to flour. Because the No Knead dough rests for multiple hours, lots of water in the recipe works. In this 3 hour french bread recipe, you can’t do that. To make steam (a.k.a. crust) – you have to do one of 2 things, depending on the baking vessel.

-> Pizza stone or baking sheet: Once you put the bread in the oven, throw 1/2 cup of water on the oven floor (electric oven) and immediately close the door. No, it won’t harm the oven. It’s a technique that professional bakers recommend for home ovens (professional ovens have a built in steamers). Once the water hits the hot oven floor, it creates steam, which creates the crust.

-> Covered baker or dutch oven: You’ll need less water – about 1/4 cup. Once you put the loaf into the very hot pot, throw in the water and over the lid immediately. Put the pot directly in the oven. Because you’ve pre-heated the oven AND the pot for 1 hour, the trapped water in the pot will create steam. If you are shy about throwing water in, grab a pie pan or loaf pan, preheat it along with whatever you are baking on, and throw the water in that instead of the oven floor. Basically, cold water in hot pan + hot oven = steam. I have an electric oven (heating element is on the top of oven). Some bakers throw ice cubes in, but I prefer water.

Secret #5: Timing and temperature:

  • Have an instant read thermometer. The internal temperature of the bread should be 190-210F.
  • All ovens are different and I’m sure our loaves will be different shapes.
  • The timing in the recipe below is just a guide for you – this is what works in my oven and how I shape my loaves.
  • Please make sure that you check the internal temp of your bread to gauge doneness.
Print

French Bread Recipe

Servings: 2 loaves Prep Time: Cook Time: 3-4 hours
french-bread

Ingredients:

4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoon active quick rising dry yeast
2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water

Directions:

1. Put 1/4 cup of bread flour on your clean counter top and reserve. Place remaining 3 3/4 cups bread flour in your mixer bowl. Spoon the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt on the other side. Pour in the warm water and with your regular mixer paddle, mix on low speed until the dough comes together in a mass. Switch to the dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Dough should clear the sides but stick to the bottom. If it is too sticky, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time. If too dry, add 1 tablespoon of water to dough to adjust.

Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

The dough should look like this during the rest:

French Bread

2. Turn the mixer on again and mix for 3 minutes. Take the dough out and place on the counter. Remember that 1/4 cup of flour that we reserved? We’ll use it now. As you knead the dough by hand, incorporate more flour as you need.

Knead by hand until the dough is very satiny, smooth, tight and formed into a nice, compact ball:

French Bread Dough Ball

Place this dough in a large lightly oiled bowl (I use Pam spray). Turn dough over so that all sides have a thin coating of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place for 1 1/2 hours to let rest and rise. Dough should almost double in size. While the dough is rising, about 1 hour into the rising stage, preheat your oven to 450F and place your pizza stone, inverted baking sheet or covered cast iron pot into the oven to heat up.

4. After the dough has risen fully, punch dough down and form back into a ball. Poke your finger on the surface – the dough should give into the pressure and slowly creep back up.

5. Ok, here’s the fun part. Cut the dough into half – you’ll shape one half at a time (keep the other piece under wraps) Pick up the dough – stretch it out until it forms a big rectangle. Dust your work surface with flour and fold over the ends of the dough like this:

French Bread

Now do a little “karate chop” lengthwise down the middle of the bread and stretch out the long ends again. Fold over in half. The karate chop helps get the middle tucked inside. Pinch all sides shut. This is important – you want to make sure that all ends including the short ends are pinched tightly to create a seal. This allows the bread to rise & expand up and out evenly. If the bread looks a little lopsided, you can try to fix it by letting it rest 5 minutes and gently stretching it out again. Just don’t knead the dough again – you’ll pop all the beautiful gas that took 1.5 hours to create!

Here’s what it should look like:

French Bread

6. Turn the bread over so that it is seam side down. Cover the loaf with a damp kitchen towel. Repeat with the other dough ball. Leave the loaves to rest on your well-floured pizza peel or cutting board for 30 minutes. After resting, take a sharp paring knife and make 3-4 shallow, diagonal slashes on the surface of the loaf. This allows the steam in the bread to escape so that it expands evenly during the baking process:

French Bread

7. When you are ready to bake, remove your baking vessel from oven. Carefully slide the gorgeous loaf into or onto your baking vessel. I like baking one loaf at a time. The most important equipment to have is an instant read thermometer to measure temperature of the bread.

If you are using pizza stone or inverted baking sheet: You can probably fit both loaves on it at the same time if you wish. -> Get a 1/2 cup of water ready next to the stove. Open the stove, put your bread in the oven and throw the water on the oven floor. Immediately close the oven door. This creates your steam. -> Bake 20-25 minutes. Check temperature of the bread – internal should be 190-210F. Remove and let cool before cutting into it.

If you are using a long cast-iron pot or covered baker: -> Before closing the lid on your pot/baker, put 1/4 cup of water directly in the pot. Cover immediately. Put pot in oven. -> Bake 10 minutes. Remove lid of pot. Bake another 14 minutes. Check temperature of the bread – internal should be 190-210F. Remove and let cool before cutting into it. Repeat with other loaf. (For convection ovens- bake 8 min covered, 10-12 min uncovered. Check temperature of bread) To re-crisp the crust, put in 375F oven for 5 minutes. Eat one loaf, share the other loaf with a friend!

French Bread

How about No Knead Bread?

My 4-Year Old Son, Andrew Bakes No Knead Bread



252 Responses to “Baking the Perfect Loaf of French Bread”

  1. Damian — 9/16/13 @ 1:04 am

    This bread was great! Wow so easy. The hardest part is waiting ;) It would have been fluffier if I didn’t transfer it to the pan I was baking it in but instead just let it sit in there for the last 30 minutes. It’s a two baguette pan. Every time you make something you learn more about the mechanics. I also forgot to score the dough but it seemed to do fine. I was afraid of throwing the water straight into the oven at first cause the heating element is at the bottom, then I was immediately afraid of the bread tasting like the burnt on crud of a thousand years when I smelled the steam but nope! I did add a bit of sugar, like a teaspoon, to the water and put a bit of the yeast in the water and let it sit before dumping it in the bowl. Also used all purpose flour, 500g cause according to culinaryarts.about.com 1 cup sifted ap is 125g, plus a teaspoon of vital wheat gluten per cup.

    • Denise Lynn — 2/26/14 @ 2:12 am

      such a great recipe Jaden~~made this after finding it late this afternoon and had it ready for dinner ~~~directions are specific and helpful and more than all of that they do work if you but follow them~~used it as a companion bread to my N’awlin’s Cajun Barbecued Shrimp ~~perfect and one did not even need to leave the house ~~all pantry friendly items ~~I wonder if there is any way to hold the dough overnight in the fridge after the first rise and punch down though as per the no knead bread recipe ~~i think it would be so nice to bake one for the evening meal and have one ready to shape and bake a day or two down the road ~~i did see your comments on ways to freeze it after par baking but did wonder if this method would be possible ~~if so how many days do you think one could possibly hold the dough ~~smile ~~~regards Denise

  2. Lanny — 9/16/13 @ 8:54 pm

    I was recommended this web site by myy cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by
    him as nobody else know such detailed about my trouble.
    You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  3. Do you have a spam issue on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was wondering your situation;
    many of us have developed some nice practices and we are looking to swap techniques with other folks, be sure
    to shoot me an email if interested.

  4. Pingback: Time to Make Golden Santa Bread

  5. Lauren — 10/1/13 @ 9:40 pm

    Wow, this bread was great! Sometimes I’m nervous about trying recipes from blogs, because I get so excited and it turns out to be not so great. Then, I’ve wasted the time and ingredients and am totally disappointed. Thanks so much for this recipe. I’ m definitely going to be making it again. It was great!

  6. As soon as the heal over time buff provided by the first piece of food you
    black tea and milk should be consuming in order to save money on electricity bills instead of using its own drippings.
    It is nearly impossible to sterilise themA potato masherA large bowlJam funnelEither a specialist
    jelly bag, then set aside to add to the variety of dishes that other person prefer.

  7. Janna — 10/21/13 @ 10:35 pm

    I loved this recipe! I used it to make my first ever loaf of bread and it turned out perfect! My husband loves it too, and we can even save money making our own bread :) Thank you so much! You made it very easy for a rookie!

  8. Pingback: French Bread: A Process | umami holiday.

  9. Robin — 11/15/13 @ 3:57 pm

    I have found this recipe very helpful but I do want to mention one problem I had. I used a pie pan, which is glass, to put the water in, and had the pan explode. I thought it worth mentioning that apparently glass or ceramic can’t handle that kind of temperature change. Part of it definitely was the durability of the Pyrex pan but I think it’s best if a metal pan of some kind is used instead. Other than that, I found the recipe great and very helpful!

  10. Brad — 12/18/13 @ 2:17 pm

    High Altitude issues. Although I had some challenges the results were incredible. Adjustments must be made for the elevation as water will evaporate at increased percentages above sea level. Hold back 1/2 cup of the flour, some for the kneeling process and 1/4 cup just to have the dough contain more water. When you bake you will reduce your oven temps 1 degree for every 500 feet above sea level. I’m in Reno, NV so I took off ten degrees at each scheduled temperature setting.

    As my loafs were resting/rising on my bake pan, I learned that they need to be separated far enough not to touch each other, also don’t cover them with plastic wrap because it stuck to the loaf and was destructive to the appearance when removed. Prior to the slits in the bread, I mixed an egg white with warm water and washed the top and sides, then sprinkled with coarse salt, it gave the final loafs a beautiful, and crunchy look and the salt enhanced the flavor.

    Crank the oven to 450 with a tray in the bottom that is hot from the pre-heat. That’s 440 to me. Dump a 1/2 cup of water in the lower tray and close the oven door. You will see the steam. After 7 minutes, reduce the heat to 350, for me 350, (elevation). 21 more minutes and check the internal temp. My thermometer is a little off so I pulled the loaves at 170 degrees, shoot for 180-190.

    The bread was a holiday table hit, seriously the best I’ve made. Enjoy.

  11. claire — 12/27/13 @ 4:07 pm

    i just made this (first time trying french bread, or really any home-made bread) and it turned out perfectly! lightly crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. i was confused, like some others, about how to shape the dough, but i doubt it matters. i folded mine over a few times and ended up with a small square that i put into a preheated cast iron dutch oven. after i put the dough in and before i put the top back on, i poured in 1/4 cup of water and followed the rest of the directions. it is perfect!

  12. Pingback: Best French Bread |

  13. kori — 1/13/14 @ 5:43 pm

    Mine is baking now but I was very unsure on how large the initial rectangle should be. Do you have an approximate size? The first try my rectangle was quite large and it made my shaped loaf very thin so I knew it wasn’t right.

  14. kori — 1/13/14 @ 6:43 pm

    It’s finished baking and it is quite delicious. I never can master the Golden brown crust though. Is there a secret other than the steam?

    • Qrxlm — 7/11/14 @ 6:24 pm

      Two ways to get the golden crust. Cooking it longer or using an egg wash. If you go with the first route and don’t want to over cook the inside just be sure it is baking closer to the top of the oven for the last few minutes until it reaches the color you want. If you want to go with the second method beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons water (or milk if you want really dark crust). Then, after you have shaped the loaves but before they have risen, brush your loaves with a generous coat of egg wash. Apply one more coat just before baking. Not only will the egg wash help with that golden color, but it will also give the loaves a glossy finish and a nice crackle to the crust.

  15. Pingback: My Foray into Food Storage: Why This Blog? | My Foray Into Food Storage

  16. Pingback: A French Baguette: The First Try | hey there frances.

  17. Pingback: Artisan French Bread with Flax - The Purposeful Mom

  18. Pingback: Dr. Hook and the Crusty Bread Show | cateritforward

  19. Pingback: bread making | Life in the Cheese Drawer

  20. Kara — 4/14/14 @ 3:40 pm

    I have been on a bread baking kick lately and decided to try a French loaf. I came across this blog and it looked so easy I thought I’d give it a go! It turned out perfectly! Thanks so much for sharing this great recipe.

  21. Tracy — 4/19/14 @ 12:33 pm

    If I use a cast iron pot to bake the bread, should I transfer the bread to the pot first or pour the 1/4 cup water first? Thanks!

  22. Pingback: Making Bread | Being Lauren

  23. Pingback: In The Kitchen: French Toast with Bananas | Di'Lightful Life & Style

  24. Pingback: What does karate chop in a french bread dough mean? | Question and Answer

  25. Christy — 6/22/14 @ 8:32 pm

    I tried making this recipe for the perfect loaf of french bread. I did exactly what the recipe said , but the dough was so hard/dense after the first paddle mix and then the dough hook. it was tough and knocked my bowl off of the holder on my kitchen aid mixer. i had to throw the mass away. My friend makes this all the time and is delicious. WHAT WENT WRONG??

  26. Isabella — 6/22/14 @ 10:15 pm

    I loved how this bread turned out!! Awesome Recipe :)

Leave a Comment