With a crunchy crust and soft center, French bread makes a delicious accompaniment for many meals. Crusty French bread is delicious, and surprisingly easy to make! This recipe yields about 2 baguettes or one loaf of bread. Here's how to make crusty French bread:
Ingredients and supplies:
- 1 1/4 cup warm (not hot) water
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached or bread flour
- 1 beaten egg white (optional)
- 1-2 tablespoons cornmeal or semolina, for sprinkling
- Large bowl, or mixer with bread hook attachment
- Mix the dough. First, combine the 1/4 cup of water with the yeast. This mixture should start to bubble; this is a sign that the yeast is activated. If there seems to be no reaction, you may want to use new yeast, because yours may be too old to work. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and salt. Then combine the dry and wet ingredients (including the last cup of water) together. Use an electric mixer with a dough hook, or your hands, to mix the dough. If the dough becomes too wet, add a little more flour. Mix until dough forms. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.
- Knead the dough. Knead for about 10-15 minutes. This develops the gluten in the dough, which gives bread its distinctive texture. Knead by hand by folding the dough over itself and pressing with the palms of your hands. When done kneading, allow to rise in the bowl until the dough has doubled in volume. This should take about 45 minutes. For best results, set the rising dough in a slightly warm place, free from drafts, covered with a damp kitchen towel. While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. This hot oven will help give the French bread its crunchy crust.
- Make loaves of bread. After the bread has risen, punch it down. Then shape it into loaves or baguettes (skinny, long loaves). Shape each piece into the desired loaf size. Then sprinkle the baking sheet with cornmeal or semolina to keep the dough from sticking. Brush the top of the loaves with water, or with beaten egg white. This will help French bread become crusty. Wait 20 minutes after placing the loaves on the pan before placing the pan in the oven.
- Bake the bread. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. The top should turn golden brown, and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped with your knuckles. The finished bread will have a hard crust, and will be chewy inside.
Once you start making your own crusty French bread at home, you'll never go back to store-bought loaves again. This classic bread is easy to make and can be made in many variations. The same recipe can also be used for rolls or other bread forms. If you plan to make lots of French bread, make it in several batches rather than doubling or tripling this recipe.