In: Food0

Easy French bread recipe made with flour, water, yeast, and salt in a stand mixer or by hand. A soft, chewy inside and crispy crust make this the BEST bread recipe for sandwiches, toast, crostini, and croutons! This homemade bread for beginners can be proofed in the Instant Pot too!

sliced French bread on slate board with butter cube and butter knife

This French bread recipe is quite simple and uses only four ingredients…flour, water, salt, and yeast. Learn how to master an easy bread recipe like this and the sky’s the limit! The best part, if you screw it up, and you might at first, you’ll likely still turn out a passable product!

That’s why I’m super excited to share this modestly sized homemade bread recipe with you. It’s a ridiculously low-cost recipe you can practice to your heart’s content, then make bigger batches, and use it for everything!

Fun fact about TKG

Back in my college days, I was a bread baker in a natural foods grocery store. Someone who knew me well thought I would enjoy baking bread and offered me a job. Gosh, did she call that one right!! I got to be creative, develop technical baking skills, and dance the early mornings away in a commercial kitchen while turning out around 80 loaves of artisan bread every day…and I got paid for it! Clearly, a win-win!

HOW TO MAKE FRENCH BREAD IN A STAND MIXER

  1. Combine yeast and (105°) water in a stand mixer bowl and allow yeast to bloom. When it floats to the surface (5 min), add flour and salt. NOTE: If using Instant Yeast, skip the yeast-blooming step and combine all four ingredients in the stand mixer bowl.
  2. Mix the ingredients using the dough hook on the lowest speed to initially pull the ingredients together. You want a cohesive ball to form that clings to the dough hook (and not cling to the bowl) while it kneads (3-5 minutes) creating a dough becomes elastic and smooth. You’ll need to sprinkle flour in as needed to achieve this during the mixing process.
  3. Remove dough from the stand mixer and hand-knead for a few minutes to build elasticity, again, sprinkling flour as needed to not stick. Then, shape dough into a firm ball to prepare for proofing, tucking sides under and into a seam.

HOW TO MAKE FRENCH BREAD WITHOUT A STAND MIXER [HAND-KNEAD]

Combine yeast and (100°-110°F) water in a 4-quart mixing bowl and allow yeast to bloom. When it floats to the surface (about 5 min), add flour and salt. NOTE: If using Instant Yeast, skip the yeast-blooming step and combine all four ingredients in the mixing bowl.

  1. Mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon (or any stirring utensil) to form a shaggy dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and hand-knead until a cohesive, elastic dough forms (3-5 minutes). Sprinkle the reserved flour in small amounts as needed to prevent the dough sticking to the table or your hands during this process.
  3. Shape dough into a firm ball to prepare for proofing, tucking sides under and into a seam.

HOW TO KNOW IF BREAD DOUGH HAS BEEN KNEADED ENOUGH

When dough reaches a certain stage of gluten development, it will pass these tests:

  1. pull test – dough doesn’t tear when you pinch and tug some away from the ball of dough. So, if you can ‘stretch’ the dough without it immediately tearing, it’s a good indicator that it has been kneaded enough.
  2. windowpane test – dough doesn’t tear when you stretch a small portion thinly enough to see light coming through.
  3. poke test – dough springs back when you make an indentation with your finger

Properly kneaded dough will have elasticity that stretches nicely and doesn’t immediately tear. Think about how taffy (stretches) and cotton candy (tears and breaks) when you pinch some and pull it off.

CAN YOU KNEAD BREAD TOO MUCH?

Yes, it is possible to over-knead dough and you don’t want to do this. You’ll know it’s been kneaded too much when it becomes too stiff to comfortably knead and the dough’s outer surface starts to tear (kind of like when you sit down in tight pants and they rip).

If this happens, cover the dough and let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes, then pick up where you left off…and go buy some new pants. ????

HOW TO PROOF DOUGH WITHOUT A DOUGH PROOFER

  1. Place the ball of dough in a lightly oiled bowl, flip to coat, and rest it seam-side down.
  2. Cover bowl with a flour-coated towel or loose plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature (about 75°) until it doubles in size.
  3. Once doubled, punch it down to deflate the air, reshape into a ball, and repeat steps 1 & 2.

HOW TO PROOF DOUGH IN THE INSTANT POT

To proof French bread dough in an Instant Pot, you need a model with the yogurt setting, which holds the dough at about 100°F. This is the perfect environment to proof dough at a consistent temperature for proper gluten development. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lightly oil the stainless insert of the Instant Pot.
  2. Place dough inside, flip to coat the surface, then rest the dough seam side down.
  3. Cover the Instant Pot with any 9″ glass lid or dinner plate, select “yogurt” setting, then toggle the “adjust” button to the “less” indicator light. Allow to double in size (30-60 min). The Instant Pot pressure cooker lid is not recommended because if the dough rises too much, it can stick to it.
  4. Punch down the dough and repeat the previous steps to proof a second time.

WHY BREAD SOMETIMES FAILS

  • Yeast has expired (this applies to yeast packet and fresh yeast.
  • Active dry yeast was stored at room temperature (must be refrigerated).
  • Water is too warm (over 110°F) and killed the yeast.
  • Water wasn’t warm enough (<100°F) and didn’t activate the yeast.
  • The mixed dough didn’t rise long enough.
  • The proofing environment wasn’t warm enough.
  • The dough proofed too long and deflated.

HOW TO SHAPE DOUGH FOR FRENCH BREAD

You can shape the dough however you like! After the second proofing, you’ll simply punch down and deflate the dough to remove the air. Reshape the dough into a free-form loaf or baguette by rounding up and shaping the dough into form. Place it on an oiled or parchment-covered baking sheet or fit it into a loaf pan or baguette pan. You’ll want to proof it one last time in the loaf form.

WHY SCORE BREAD DOUGH BEFORE BAKING?

When bread bakes, the air inside needs to escape and will do so using the path of least resistance, which can cause the bread to split open in undesirable places. Scoring the bread gives you more control over where the air escapes (preferably the top), which helps maintain your intended appearance.

HOW TO SCORE BREAD DOUGH

Once the dough is formed into a free-form or loaf, score the surface by making 1/8″ deep slashes across the top using a bread lame or razor blade. You could use a sharp knife but this might give you less control over the depth and sharp detail of the design.

baked French bread loaf on baking sheet on cooling rack on towel

WHAT TEMPERATURE IS BREAD WHEN IT’S DONE?

This homemade French bread should arrive at 190-200° on an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the bread. Insert it through the bottom of the bread to avoid poking unnecessary holes in the top.

If you don’t have a thermometer, a browned crust will be a pretty solid indicator. Also, it will make a “hollowed” sound near the surface when you tap the bread with your fingernails.

PRO-TIP FOR CRISPY CRUST

This bread recipe uses a constant 450° temperature for baking, so you naturally get a nice crispy, browned crust straight out of the oven. If you want it even darker and crispier, at the end of the baking cycle, simply turn off the oven and allow the bread to sit in the oven undisturbed for 5 minutes. This allows the crust to brown further without the bread becoming overbaked. Then turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack.

FYI: storing the bread in a plastic bag will soften the crust by the next day. Storing it in a paper bag will keep it relatively crispy, but it won’t keep the inside soft like it will if stored in a plastic bag.

MAKE HOMEMADE CROUTONS OR CROSTINI

Turn French bread into homemade croutons or crostini toasts. They’re so easy and you’ll save money because these specialty products are expensive in the grocery store. Use crostini for dips, soup, or finger foods for parties. Sprinkle croutons on your favorite salads or soups, or use for holiday stuffing.

TOOLS NEEDED TO MAKE HOMEMADE BREAD

BARE MINIMUM BREAD TOOLS

  • mixing bowl (to mix bread dough by hand and/or proof dough)
  • wooden spoon or any utensil or bare hands (to blend ingredients)
  • baking sheet, loaf pan, or baguette pan (your choice)
  • bread lame or razor blade (to score the dough)
  • oven mitts (for safe handling of hot bread/bakeware)

TOOLS NOT REQUIRED FOR HOMEMADE BREAD (BUT NICE TO HAVE)

  • instant-read thermometer (to test water for yeast activation)
  • stand mixer (to mix bread dough)
  • Instant Pot with any 9″ glass lid (to proof bread dough)
  • bowl scraper (helps remove dough from the bowl…like a spatula)
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