This recipe for French bread is one I’ve been making for decades. My friend Margee Smith, a master bread maker shared it with me. We are so very grateful for her expertise!
It’s an easy recipe. Don’t let French bread intimidate you. The French are very particular about their bread, but they don’t make it at home. They purchase it at grocery stores and boulangeries. Even the fancy boulangeries often buy their baguettes from institutional style bakeries.
French bread is a very wet dough. The high water content is part of the reason you get the desired large holes inside the bread.
The most difficult step for me is dividing the dough in 2 or 3 equal size pieces. As you can see my loaves are not equal in size. You can experiment with this.
If you would like to see a Paris boulangier in action, go to this link. We had a marvelous tour there a couple years ago while we were staying in Montmartre.
The first step is combining the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid like stand mixer with a dough hook. Combine the ingredients until it forms a ball, then let it rest 5 minutes, and finally beat it at medium speed 2 minutes.
Pour the dough into a large glass or ceramic bowl. Let it rise until doubled in size.
In a Kitchen Aid Mixer with a dough hook combine:
- 4 ½ cups bread flour
- 1/2 to 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (if you use table salt make it 1/3 to 1/2 tablespoon) I prefer less salt and always use 1/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
- ½ Tbsp yeast (1 Tbsp if you are in a hurry) The flavor develops more the longer the rising time.
- 15 oz. cold water
1. Combine the ingredients at medium speed and beat until it forms a ball.
2. Let rest 5 minutes
3. Resume medium speed and beat dough for 2 minutes
4. Scrape dough into a bowl three times the size of the dough
5. Cover with a plate or plastic and let rise 6 hours, overnight or till double. If you use 1 tablespoon of yeast, it will take only 2-3 hours to double in size. Do not allow to get larger than double in size.
6. Sprinkle about ½ cup flour onto a smooth counter.
7. Scrape dough onto flour and sprinkle more flour to cover entire surface of dough
8. With a bread knife divide into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on the type of Teflon like coated baguette baking pan you have.
9. Shape into 3 baguettes using hands and the side of bread knife.
10. Gently place into perforated Teflon coated bread forms and if desired score loaves with a sharp knife. Scoring the baguettes is not necessary.
11. Let rise 1 hour or more or until doubled in size.
12. At least 30 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 F and place one rack in the top 1/3 of the oven and another rack on the very bottom level. At this time also place a shallow old baking pan on the bottom rack.
13. When ready to bake, place bread in top third or center of the oven. Immediately take 1 cup of ice & ½ cup water and pour it into bottom rack’s baking pan. Close the door right away to keep the steam in the oven & bake 20 minutes. The steam is what makes the crust crisp.
14. Add more ice and water and bake another 10 minutes.
15. You can experiment with the amount of cold water in the recipe. I use 15 oz for a wetter dough which makes a bread with more holes and 14 oz for a denser bread interior.
16. After 1 day, store bread in plastic bag. To crisp up the crust, place bread in a very hot oven for a few minutes with the same ice and water technique.
Bon Apetit! Merci Margee!