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There is nothing like freshly baked homemade French-style bread. The crust is perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside, but the interior is smooth as silk, soft and fluffy. No need to buy from the bakery ever again!
This French-style bread is made in the bread machine for speed but can be made in the food processor or by hand. It’s shaped into baguettes, which bake much faster than regular loaves of bread. It’s a basic loaf, made with simple ingredients, and comes out incredible every time.
This is a fun and seemingly fancy recipe, but it takes less effort or expertise than you’d expect. If you’re getting into baking your bread, this is an ideal starter recipe because it’s hard to mess up!
What is French bread?
French bread is a long, lean loaf known for its cylindrical shape, crusty exterior, and soft, chewy insides. It’s perfect for any occasion, used to make sandwiches, topped with cheese or meat as an appetizer, slathering with butter or jam, as a side for soup, bruschetta, to make French toast, to use in French onion soup, and so many other creative ways! It is the most fun and easy bread recipe.
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- 1.25 cup Water - 24-30°C/75–85°F
- 1 tbsp Butter - softened or Margarine
- 3.5 cups Bread flour
- 1.5 tbsp Sugar
- 1.25 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Active Dry Yeast
Optional to dust baking board
- Cornmeal - or semolina
Egg white wash if you want it to look extra beautiful!
- 1 Egg white
- tbsp Water
For the “special baguettes (Pain speciaux)” add the topping of your choice, some examples include:
- Poppy seeds
- Parmesan cheese
- Sesame seeds
Instacart is available in the US only at the moment.
- Attach the kneading blade to the bread pan.
- Place ingredients into the bread pan following the order and method specified in the manual of your Bread Maker.
- Note: Make a small indentation in the middle of the flour with a finger or a knife. Add yeast to the indentation, ensuring it does not come into contact with the liquid ingredients.
- Select the “Dough” setting on your bread machine.
Remove the dough from the machine
- When the dough is ready, the unit will beep to indicate that the dough has finished the first rise.
- Important: You should NOT leave the dough inside the bread machine.
- Drop it onto a silicone mat or parchment paper or lightly flour-dusted surface. If the dough is easy to handle without flour, shape it on a lightly oiled, clean countertop.
Fold the dough
- This helps to make the inside of your baguette perfectly chewy.
- Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until almost doubled in size, 30-90 minutes, or until the dough has sufficiently proofed.
- Note: The turned-off oven with the light on is warm enough for this purpose.
- Alternatively, you could let the dough ferment in the fridge for another 14-18 hours.
Divide it out into even pieces
- Note: Weigh the dough by cutting it (do not tear it). You can also eyeball this if you do not have a scale.
- -> For a flûte or Parisienne – about 560g (19.75oz) of dough for a 400g (14 oz) baked bread.
- -> For a baguette – about 350g (12.3 oz) of dough for a 250g (8.8 oz) baked bread
- -> For a ficelle or bread stick (thinner and skinny baguette) or demi-baguette or half-baguette (20cm/8”) - about 175g (6.2 oz) of dough for a 125g (4.4 oz) baked bread.
- -> For a small French sandwich bread – about 70g (2.4 oz) of dough for a 50g (1.75 oz) baked bread.
Pre-shape and rest the dough
- Note: The point of this process is to start creating tension in the dough to rise up instead of spreading out.
- Pat the dough into a rectangle and then pull out on the short sides. Bring the short sides into the centre and press with your fingertips to seal. Then bring the long ends into the centre and press to seal.
- Cover with an oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before the final shaping.
Shaping the dough
- French bread is traditionally long and thin.
- After the dough has rested, stretch each dough rectangle slightly and by folding it down on the long sides into a cylinder, sealing the seams and pulling it into a tight log form.
- Gently stretch out the ends again and, using your fingertips, press them together into a point, forming the baguette shape.
- Using your hands, with the seam side down, roll the cylinders into a tube shape, gently stretching them to the desired length with roughly about 4cm/1.5" in diameter.
- Taper the ends of the log slightly to create the baguette's typical "pointy" end. Use your hands and the back and forth rolling motion to gently taper the ends. Pinch seams and ends to seal.
- Note: See tips for shaping baguettes at https://youtu.be/ba2DHI299PU
Place each loaf on a lightly floured couche
- Note: Once you've finished your final shape, you should let the dough proof before baking.
- Transfer the shaped loaves to a lightly floured (sprinkled with cornmeal or all-purpose flour) lint-free cloth, large tea towel, or baker's couche to rest.
- Pull the cloth up around each loaf to create folds, a ridge between each baguette (think taco stand). This will help the dough maintain its shape while you let them rest for the final time.
- Cover with an oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 30-60 minutes until they're slightly puffy ("marshmallow-y").
- The loaves should look lighter and less dense than when you first shaped them but won't be nearly doubled in bulk.
- Note: Rising times for dough after it is shaped and placed in the baking pan will vary due to the temperature and humidity level of your kitchen. If the air in the room is cold, the fermentation will occur slowly, and the dough will rise at a slower pace, requiring more time. If the dough is placed in a warm spot, it will quickly ferment and won't need too much time to rise sufficiently.
- The optimum temperature for rising is 26-30°C/80–85°F. Turn the oven on for 1 minute (no longer) at 76°C/170°F. Turn off after 1 minute and put the dough to rise with the oven off.
- You can tell that the dough is ready for baking by a gentle poke with a finger. Flour your index finger, and gently poke the sides of your loaf.
- If the dough is sufficiently proofed, the indentation springs back very slowly. It's ready to be baked.
- If it's under-proofed, the dough will spring back quickly. It needs a little more time.
- Note: If it over proofs, it may fall or have a big hole in the middle. You may not realize your error until you slice into the baked loaf.
- Note: If the dough doesn't rise enough, your bread will be compact and smaller than it should be. Keep an eye on it. This step is crucial.
Preheat the oven
- During the last 10 minutes of rest time, turn your oven on to preheat to 232˚C/450˚F.
- If you're using a baking stone, place it on a middle rack.
- Place cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven. You want the pan to get very hot, so when you throw ice cubes into it in the oven, it will immediately start evaporating, creating billows of steam. This helps the baguettes rise nicely in the oven (also referred to as oven spring) and the texture of the bread and prevents surface hardening.
- Fill a bowl with 1-2 cups of ice cubes and set it near the oven. You will need to work quickly and carefully.
Prepare a baking sheet
- If not using a baking stone, cover the back of a sheet pan (or baking steel) with parchment paper and dust with cornmeal.
- If you use a baking stone, dust it with semolina flour.
Gently transfer loaves
- If your baguettes have risen in a dish towel or couche, very carefully place them (seam side down) onto a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet.
- If you plan on baking them on a baking stone, place them onto a piece of parchment, and lift the parchment onto a baker's peel.
- Dust off excess flour.
- The egg wash isn't required, but it does make the bread extra beautiful, shiny, and golden.
- To make an egg wash, whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water.
- Gently brush the wash over the top of the shaped, risen bread dough right before slashing and placing it in the oven.
- Then spray lightly with water.
- For a "special baguette (Pain speciaux)," add the toppings of your choice. Some examples include Poppy seeds, Parmesan cheese, Sesame seeds, Grains, Herbs, etc.
For a rustic look (optional)
- If you'd prefer a rustic, floury look, omit the egg wash and gently roll them in flour (or cornmeal) after the loaves are shaped.
- A mix of regular flour and rice flour works best as rice flour does not absorb water too well and prevents sticking
Finishing with NO toppings
- For a speedy, no-hassle glaze, water may be brushed on or spritzed. Spraying or brushing loaves with water while they bake will produce a crispy and crunchy crust with a nicer (in my opinion!) colour than the unglazed one. Water keeps the dough skin from forming the crust, enabling the dough to expand. It also smooths out the crust, creating a more refined appearance.
- Apply just before baking.
Scoring (slashing) the loaves
- With a baker's lame blade or a sharp knife, make 3-5 diagonal (every 5cm/2 inches at a 10-45-degree angle) cuts 6mm/0.25" deep across the top of each baguette, leaving about 2.5 cm/1″ uncut on each end.
- If you are making a 50g (1.75 oz) small French sandwich bread, make 1 horizontal cut.
- Note: Never cut it entirely across the top of the loaf. When scoring, use a swift and firm motion to ensure nice and clean cuts.
- Attention: The process is done right before the loaf is put into the oven. Don't try to change its shape or rise once the cuts are made.
- If the baguettes keep sliding when making cuts, hold them with one hand at the top end and make cuts from top to bottom.
- Scoring baguettes helps them open up and nicely rise in the oven, or as bakers call it, to have an oven spring.
Baking the bread
- Spray each baguette with a bit of water.
- Caution: Be careful with opening your preheated oven. It will be hot and steamy and may burn your face if you are too close when opening the door.
- If baking on a stone, use a baker’s peel to transfer the baguettes. Gently slide the parchment paper with the baguettes onto the preheated baking stone or place the baking pans with the loaves into the middle rack of the oven.
- Add the ice cubes to the pan on the bottom.
- Close the door quickly to preserve the steam. The billowing steam will help the baguettes rise and give them a lovely, shiny crust. Nothing offers the baker quite as nice a crust as an oven filled with steam for the first part of the baking process.
- Important: Just in the oven. Never create steam during the Bread Machine baking.
- Caution: Always use an oven mitt and wear long sleeves when adding ice or water to the hot steam pan to prevent steam burns. Using a watering can with a long spout when pouring the water into the steam pan provides control and distance from the hot steam.
- Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 218°C/425°F
- Rotate the loaves 180 degrees after 10 minutes of baking.
- Keep the sturdy pan with boiling water at the bottom of the oven while the bread bakes for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the sturdy pan with boiling water from the oven.
- Bake until the crust is deep golden brown, sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped, and the centre of the bread registers 95-100°C/200-212°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- The loaves should be crusty, golden brown all around, smell fragrant, and feel lighter when picked up. Check them after 15 minutes and decide if you would like a darker crust. If pale, continue baking for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Note: You should watch very carefully so as not to burn or undercook your bread!
- If it is not ready, after 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 200°C/400°F.
Let it cool
- Remove baked loaves to wire racks to cool.
- Allow sitting for at least 15-30 minutes before cutting into your loaf. This will completely develop their flavour and allow the crust to become more crispy.
- Attention: The bread should come out of the oven to cool. Never cool bread in the oven. Suppose the baking time concludes, and the bread is in the oven. If you turn off the oven and leave the bread to cool in an oven that is still near baking temperature, you’re going to dry out and possibly burn the bread.
StorageBaguettes are best when eaten on the same day within 6 hours. However, the leftover baguette can be wrapped in foil or a clean towel and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days. You can enjoy it cold, at room temperature, or reheated in the oven or a toaster. Never wrap loaves until they're fully cool. Condensation will form, causing a soggy crust and promoting spoilage.
FreezingFrench bread (and most bread) freezes very well. After French bread is totally cool, store it in a plastic, zipper-topped bag in the freezer for up to 4 months.
ReheatingThaw overnight and reheat, just before serving, wrapped in foil in a 180°C/350°F oven for 15 minutes.
How do I soften hardened French bread?For hardened French bread, you can sprinkle it with a tablespoon (or less) of water, wrap it in foil, and heat it in the oven at 150°C/300°F for 10 to 15 minutes. The water will incorporate moisture back into the loaf.
It’s always a good idea to open the bread machine’s lid during the second kneading cycle (after about 10 minutes) and check the consistency of the dough ball. The dough is “just right” when it is a smooth round ball in appearance, soft to the touch, leaves a slight residue on your finger, and the bottom of the bread pan is clean of dough residue.
- If it’s too dry add lukewarm liquid a teaspoon at a time until it looks right.
- If it looks too wet, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it looks right.
- If there is flour on the sides of the pan, use a Silicone Spatula to wipe the flour from the pan.
Weather can affect your ingredients If you live in a moist climate, chances are you’ll need at least the recommended amount of flour, maybe even 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup more. Bread dough should be sticky, but still manageable, especially after the first rise. While you’re kneading, the dough should come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl, leaving the bowl mostly clean. I usually aim to have the very bottom of the dough still attached to the bowl. Try not to add too much flour because your bread will be denser. When you pick the dough up, some will stick to your fingers. After the first rise, it will be easier to handle!
You may also make this bread without the aid of a bread machine, or make the dough in a bread machine, and bake it in the oven. Simply make the dough using your usual method (by hand, electric mixer or bread machine); allow it to rise until puffy, then shape it into a log; and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch (21.5 x 11.5 cm) bread pan. Allow the loaf to rise, covered, until it's crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan. If you want, brush the risen loaf with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle it with seeds. Bake it in a preheated 350°F/175°C oven for 35 minutes, or until its interior temperature registers 190°F/88°C on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bread from the oven, remove it from the pan, and cool it on a wire rack.
How can you tell if the bread is fully baked? I like to use a food thermometer. Mine is digital, so it’s very easy to use. Fully cooked bread will be 190-200°F/88-93°C. Bread recipes that include milk will need to cook until 200°F/93°C, but without you can take it out once it reaches 190°F/88°C. The top will be golden brown.
- Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Awesome Bread Using a Bread Maker
- Fast2eat Foolproof (Bread maker) Bread Recipes
* “Long-term dietary intake of gluten was not associated with risk of coronary heart disease. However, the avoidance of gluten may result in reduced consumption of beneficial whole grains, which may affect cardiovascular risk. The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.” (Source: http://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1892)
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