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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.
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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. cortney — 5/30/11 @ 6:05 pm

    this bread was delicious! but it looked absolutley nothing like the pictures on here! it was all white, even when i cooked it for 35 minutes but it was deffinatly cooked. however, my bread was folded weird, so that could have been the problem :)

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  4. Rosie — 7/5/11 @ 12:05 am

    This recipe made a delicious loaf of bread! It was very easy make, but does take a few hours to make, so don’t wait till the last minute. Also, the crust didn’t brown as courtney previously stated, but I was fine with that. I made four smaller loaves that I sliced and served warm with butter. My bread didn’t turn out light and airy in the center, but still had a good texture. It could very well be attributed to the face that I’m a novice at making bread.

    I’ll certainly be making this again…thanks for the recipe!

  5. Christin — 7/12/11 @ 10:37 pm

    This bread is AWESOME! My husband said two things about it–1. “It’s the best thing you’ve ever made.” 2. “If it were any more French, it would need a passport.”

    I’m not great with bread, but this recipe turned out great. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m off to try it with some Nutella! :D

  6. Katie — 7/23/11 @ 8:21 pm

    I just made this bread and it is my first time ever making french bread. I followed it exactly and they turned out perfect. I was so amazed that I could actually make something that looks like i bought it from the store. Thank you! This will be my french bread recipe :)

  7. Heather — 7/26/11 @ 7:15 pm

    Didn’t have any trouble browning, but I found it a bit salty. Perfectly fine with some cheese though.

  8. Pam Folse — 7/29/11 @ 8:53 pm

    Looks good, but if I want perfect French bread in 3 hours my favorite thing to do is drive to “Little Vietnam”, hit the groceries and a restaurant, and come home with a full tummy, tons of goodies and the best french bread in New Orleans.

  9. I make this recipe often and love how easy it is, to help give it some color and shine I always brush the loaves with egg white before slicing the tops. I cut it into 4 smaller loaves and use it for bahn mi sandwiches. Delish!

  10. D Marie — 8/10/11 @ 2:46 pm

    I agree with the comment that the end result looks nothing like the photo–and that it ended up in a weird shape. It is a good recipe, though, and I may try it again.

    One problem with the recipe: instructions for warming the oven don’t make sense. It ought to be pre-heated while the loaves are rising–not the 1.5 hours while dough is still rising.

  11. Daniel Loh — 8/18/11 @ 4:09 am

    This loaf is not perfect. Too little oven spring, likely from a result of not enough proofing and could do with a bit of in between folding.

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  13. Amanda — 9/18/11 @ 4:41 pm

    Oh my, this bread was absolutely luxurious! I make our breads as my daughter has allergies and my family loved it! I doubled the recipe and got four nice sized loaves. My two daughters and I have already eaten a loaf and a half already! I have never been able to get that incredible brown crust until today! Yay! I set it a 450 tossed the water on the bottom and didn’t open the door until it was done (although it was so tempting!). This is my new favorite recipe. Thanks so much I will be using this recipe like crazy.

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  15. Ambar — 9/22/11 @ 2:05 pm

    After the dough has been rising for an hour, thats when you turn on your oven. Ovens are supposed to be pre-heated at least 30 before baking. ( “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”.)

  16. Ginny — 9/23/11 @ 6:17 pm

    AWESOME. I’ve always had such trouble with baking my own French bread…never crusty enough, usually too doughy. I am clicking my heels because THIS ONE WORKED!!! Thank you so much, Jaden, for doing all of the research and making the 40 loaves to find just the right one!!

  17. Rick — 9/29/11 @ 6:22 pm

    WOW! First attempt using your great instructions and recipe, and results were out of this world…bread brown beautifully, and tasted fantastic, with the kind of texture and thin crispy crust that French bread needs to be bakery quality. Fooled around with numerous videos, and making “the sponge” and “paa’t fernintage” or whatever…lots of work for poor results. I followed your sinple
    recipe, including some great tips, and nailed it. Thank you so
    much!

  18. Biz Markie — 9/30/11 @ 11:55 am

    Are you serious? You just posted THE LEAST CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENT possible. If I posted a tutorial on how to paint a masterpiece, you would probably say something like, “Well my favorite thing to do is drive to a gallery and buy a painting. That way I come home with things that say nothing about me as a person and give me absolutely no sense of accomplishment.”

    Don’t comment on baking tutorials if you don’t like to bake. And saying anything, besides seafood and hurricanes, is the best you can find in New Orleans is almost never saying much.

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  20. Heather — 10/7/11 @ 3:45 pm

    Oh Emm Gee!!! I made this bread today and whoa man is it GOOD!!!! I’m a bread novice (have been mostly making breads and rolls with my bread machine) but I wanted to give this a try. It’s easy and the results were perfect. I think I need to work on my shaping a bit but other than that this was definitely a winner. Now if I can just keep myself from eating it all before the hubs gets home…

  21. john — 10/7/11 @ 7:12 pm

    Good recipe and I’ve always thought that “punching” the dough literally means to punch it down; however this is NOT the case for those who don’t know. You should gently fold the dough flat and then fold it back into a ball. Here is a website I found explaining it. http://artisanbreadbaking.com/techniques/folding/

  22. Maria — 10/16/11 @ 1:28 pm

    For some reason my bread was very salty. Almost too salty to eat. I followed all the directions and amounts, but all i could taste was salt. Has anyone else had this issue?

  23. Nikki — 11/7/11 @ 2:40 pm

    I never remember to go back and comment on recipes, but this one will go down in history as our FAVORITE BREAD EVER!!! Easiest recipe, well explained – Thank you!

  24. Glenease — 11/13/11 @ 7:00 pm

    I tried this one too night and found it very easy to use. I did make a couple alterations and wish I had read the comments prior too making mine. The next time I make it I will cut the amount of salt to 1 tsp. as I agree with a previous comment that it had a bit too much salt. I also brushed egg white on top prior to baking then after it was done and on the cooling rack I brushed a little melted (unsalted) butter with a touch of honey on top.
    It came out great aside from the need to cut back on the salt.
    Thanks for sharing this recipe with us. I will be making this one again!

  25. Whatever — 12/8/11 @ 7:12 pm

    Oh shut the hell up. She was merely posting her opinion. Don’t get so cranky.

  26. Kelly — 12/9/11 @ 1:54 am

    JUST tried this recipe… and am in LOVE!! … used about a 1/2 cup of flour during final kneading process. (not the 1/4 cup mentioned.. but it worked!!) also cut the salt in half after reading the comments! YUM YUM pairing it w/ fresh homemade pasta for dinner w/ good friends tomorrow! THANKS!!!

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  28. Jessica — 1/6/12 @ 12:24 am

    Did you perhaps use traditional yeast instead of quick-rising? Because this recipe uses quick-rising you don’t need to proof it, simply add it to the dry ingredients.
    I made this recipe and it was delicious, browned perfectly, and the crust was crisp! However, instead of throwing water on the bottom of the oven, I placed a cast iron pan on the bottom rack and heated it along with the baking sheet and threw the water into that to create the steam.

  29. Joanne — 1/11/12 @ 1:39 pm

    This French loaf was FANTASTIC!! It was my first time and it came out amazing, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.. Its now a regular on the dinner table :)

  30. Eve — 1/15/12 @ 5:56 pm

    This was perfect! I used traditional yeast, and so used 3 teaspoons of yeast. Beautiful bread, beautiful crust. I have finally perfected my folding. This is the best, thanks so much!

  31. Laura — 1/20/12 @ 3:17 pm

    Just a question. Maybe a dumb one, but on the part that you fold in over half after the karate chop and stretching out the ends. which direction do you fold it in half. IS it lengthwise or do you bring the two short ends together?

  32. Holly — 1/23/12 @ 10:03 pm

    I just baked this bread and it came out perfect! Delicious. I followed all of your directions exactly, did not change anything. I baked on a pizza stone, put a pie plate of 1/2 cup of water in the oven at the last minute, for moisture. Used a thermometer to check the final internal temp of the bread, the loaves were finished in 20 minutes. Perfection! Thanks for sharing this recipe!

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  34. Jennifer Barb — 1/28/12 @ 6:29 pm

    Amazing bread!!! I will never be able to go back to store bought French bread!! Thank you so much!

  35. Cheryl — 2/4/12 @ 7:31 pm

    can you make this recipe into rolls instead of loafs

  36. Katy — 2/13/12 @ 5:04 pm

    This was an amazing recipe, it turned out magnificently despite the fact that I didn’t have any bread flour!

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  38. Thanks for the tips and visual imagery…will try this at home.The tip about steaming was particularly helpful.

  39. Diane L. — 2/21/12 @ 4:51 pm

    I made this a couple times last year and it was so wonderful! After years of attempting many different bread recipes, and always ending up with a heavy, dense loaf, I was ECSTATIC at how this bread came out.
    I have a batch rising at the moment… One thing I’ve done each time I’ve made it is to add 1/2 tsp sugar to the flour/yeast/salt when it’s dry; (I’ve been brainwashed to believe that yeast loves sugar so it was automatic to me.) That may cut down on the saltiness a bit…?
    I kind of want to experiment a little bit with adding some subtle flavors- like a little bit of rosemary and garlic or something (well not so subtle:). Has anyone done any flavoring with this bread?

  40. Ami — 2/25/12 @ 12:11 am

    This is great. This is the first time I tried making the french bread. It looks just like the picture. I will never buy french bread my the store again. I love it, taste is great and crunchy from the outside. Nice and brown as well. I follow all the instructions and french bread came out perfect. thanks =)

  41. Linda — 3/1/12 @ 8:45 pm

    I made this last week and it turned out great. Made it again today and when I threw water in bottom of oven it cracked my pizza stone. I tossed water in bottom, being careful to avoid bread, I closed the door, watched the steam rise and then POP! Great, I’ve had that for about 15 years.

  42. Amanda — 3/3/12 @ 3:00 pm

    I have the second loaf of this bread in my oven RIGHT NOW– my house smells delectable, the first loaf is a gorgeous crackly brown, and I can’t wait to serve it tonight to my dinner guests! My loaves turned out looking rather more like baguettes than your loaf, but I bet they taste delicious all the same. :) Thanks for the recipe; it’s a keeper!

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  45. greg estes — 3/22/12 @ 10:04 am

    this recipe worked well for sausage buns. we make our own sausage and this is the best suited for them so for. we took the dough and split it up into 6 slices and formed 6 little loaf’s cooked the same as recipe and thy came out golden brown

  46. Michael — 3/27/12 @ 2:45 pm

    Relatively new to bread making and have previously been unsuccessful baking French Bread. Seeing this simple recipe, I thought I would give it a try. This is the very best french bread that I have had since I left Europe many years ago. It rose well, had a brown crispy crust and chewy inside….simply amazing.
    Thank you.

  47. Amelia — 3/28/12 @ 1:27 pm

    I’ve baked this recipe several times and it has never failed me. I bake a lot of bread from different sources and just made two loaves of sourdough from one of my favorite bread cook books using this baking method instead of the one in the book. I achieved much better results. Thank you for all these invaluable tips.

  48. rose n — 4/11/12 @ 10:03 am

    This is a GREAT bread recipe–dense, tasty. However, I agree with many of the others–it was a bit salty with two tsps. of salt. Next time I’ll cut it to one tsp. I put my stone baker into the oven when I started to preheat it. That will prevent the baker from cracking. And baking the bread at 450 was fine. I also sprayed water on the bread as it was baking. But cut the salt, for sure.

  49. Sue — 4/11/12 @ 4:07 pm

    Just made this recipe and my kitchen now smells like a bakery! Perfect recipe and perfect results. It’s taken me years to find a good recipe so now yours is entering my master recipe collection. Only thing I did differently was I made one loaf and four rolls and let them rise longer the second time. They rose for 60 minutes instead of the 30 you mentioned but still baked perfectly and tasted fabulous. Thank you!

  50. Erin — 4/12/12 @ 4:05 pm

    I had this same question. Did anyone end up answering it?

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