Classic French Bread

If it were up to me, I’d eat bread for every meal. Bread and cheese. And wine. And more bread. And maybe some soup. And maybe some more bread.

 This recipe is great because it gives you 4 baguettes without much active cooking time. Which means you can eat a whole one right out of the oven without feeling guilty because you still have THREE LEFT.
The bread starts the night before with a quick yeast, flour, and water mix, which you let rise and deflate overnight. The next morning, you’ll see signs of rising and deflating, like so:
 See how the dough is pulling down from the bowl? That’s good! After that initial overnight rise, you just add some more flour and water and do two rises like normal. The overnight starter gives the bread great depth of flavor, which I love.
 Confession: I already ate all this bread. And now I’m looking at these pictures. And now I’m wanting more bread. Ahhhhh, life.
 Baguettes are pretty simple, actually. After your bread has done its last rise in the bowl, section the dough into four pieces. Flatten a piece out, then fold the top down (see above) and the bottom up (see below) before rolling it out into a log. Place the loaves seam-side down for their last rise and while they bake to make beauuuuutifully shaped baguettes.
 When the baguettes are rising after you’ve shaped them, it can be difficult to keep them from just rising UP, maintaining their nice shape, instead of rising up and out and into a blob (boo hiss). Fortunately, I found a solution that DOESN’T involve buying a special baguette pan (YAY!). Just put the formed baguettes onto a heavy dish towel and fold it up between each loaf. The heavy fabric will help encourage the bread to rise up without losing its long, narrow, baguette-y shape.
Classic French Bread
YIELD: 4 loaves
For the Starter:
  • 1 and ½ cups flour
  • ¾ cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
  • 2 and ¼ tsp. (1 packet) active dry yeast
For the Dough:
  • 1 and ½ cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • ⅓ cup room temperature water
  • bread starter from the night before
For the Starter:
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on your counter overnight at room temperature. (Mixture should rise and deflate overnight; you’ll see evidence of this like we do in the photo at the start of this post)
For the Dough:
  1. Add the flour, salt, and water to the starter. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated (about 2-3 minutes in a stand mixer).
  2. Knead by hand or in a stand mixer for 2-3 minutes more, or until dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Place dough in lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down dough, re-cover, and let rise another hour or until doubled in size again.
  5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Punch it down and cut it into 4 sections (if you want to make larger loaves, just section it into 2 pieces).
  6. Flatten one piece of the dough with your hand until it is about ⅓? thick. Fold the top third of the dough down to the middle, then fold the bottom third up – just like you’re folding a letter. Roll the folded piece of dough into a long log shape, about 13-15? long. Place formed loaf seam-side down on a lightly floured tea towel. Fold the towel up on either side of the roll to help keep its shape as it rises.
  7. Repeat this process with the remaining three pieces of dough. Cover loaves with a tea towel and let formed loaves rise for another 45 minutes.
  8. Transfer loaves to a baking sheet (I bake them on my silpat, but if you don’t have one just sprinkle some cornmeal on the pan before you set the loaves on it). Let loaves rest for 15 minutes before you put them in the oven. Just before you bake the loaves, cut a few diagonal slashes down the length of each loaf.
  9. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes or until loaves are browned and sound hollow when you tap them.
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything and Martha Stewart


Leave a Comment