Have you ever wanted to make the best French bread to go in your sandwiches or toast in the morning? Well, you’re in luck! All you’ll need to make a delicious loaf of French bread is a few simple ingredients, some patience, and a sprinkle of elbow grease. Let’s learn more about this popular and oh-so-delicious bread.
Overview of French Bread
French bread is usually the classic long, thin baguette that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Although, there are other types of French bread out there too, like the bâtard, which is a thinner version of the baguette. This beloved bread has been around for centuries and is enjoyed by many people around the world.
History of French Bread
The history of French bread dates back to ancient Rome and is still as popular today as it was back then. It spread throughout Europe, where it was enjoyed by the elites and peasants alike. By the 1700s, the baguettes that we know today were beginning to become a popular food item. It was made with a combination of ingredients like flour, yeast, and salt, and it was perfect for dipping into hot soup or layering with meats and vegetables.
Ingredients Needed to Make Dough for French Bread
If you want to make classic French bread, you will need the following ingredients to make the dough:
Types of Flour: The most traditional flour to use when making French bread is unbleached, all-purpose white flour with a protein content of between 11% and 12%. The combination of flour to use will depend on your preference, as some prefer a combination of two-thirds white to one-third whole wheat.
Yeast: The leavening agent in French bread comes from yeast. Yeast is available in both fresh and active dry versions; if you’re using active dry yeast, you will need to activate it before baking your bread.
Salt: Salt is an important ingredient when making French bread, as it helps to control the growth of the yeast. You’ll need to add a couple of teaspoons of regular table salt (not coarse) into the dough.
Water: You’ll need to use warm water when making French bread dough. Usually this is transported from the tap; just make sure it’s warm, but not hot, or it will kill the yeast.
Optional Additives: Depending on the flavor you’re looking for, you can add some optional additives to your dough. Some popular French bread add-ins include sesame seeds, onion powder, dry herbs, garlic, and even cheese.
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Make Dough for French Bread
Prepping the Yeast and Flour Mixture: The first step in making your French bread is to combine the yeast and the flour in a bowl. The ratio will depend on the bread you’re making, but generally it’s one packet of active dry yeast to two and a half cups of flour (white or a combination of white and whole wheat).
Adding Water and Salt: The next step is to add the warm water and salt to the flour mixture. You want to mix it until it’s a shaggy dough. You may need to add more water or flour depending on the consistency of your dough.
Kneading and Shaping the Dough: Once the dough comes together in a ball, it’s time to knead it. It’s important to knead the dough for 8-10 minutes at this stage. You’re looking for a smooth and elastic consistency before moving onto the next step. Once the dough is ready, shape it into a ball and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Allowing Dough to Rise: After the dough has rested, you can shape it into whatever you’d like. If you’re opting for a traditional long, thin baguette, use your hands to roll it out until it’s about 30 inches in length. Transfer the dough onto a baking sheet and let it rise for about an hour, until it’s doubled in size.
Punching and Shaping Again: Punch down the dough and roll it out again until it’s 18 inches long and lightly floured. Transfer the dough onto a lightly oiled pizza peel and repeat stretching, punching, and rolling until the dough is 24 inches long. Transfer the dough onto the pizza peel, score it with a sharp knife and brush it with olive oil.
Optional Toppings and Finishing Touches: If desired, you can add some toppings to the dough. Some popular French bread toppings include sesame seeds, cheese, herbs, and garlic.
Best Practices for Making Dough for French Bread
When it comes to making bread dough, there are some best practice tips that you should be aware of before getting started:
Determining Freshness of Ingredients: The most important thing to keep in mind is that your ingredients have to be fresh when you’re making bread dough. If the yeast, flour, and water you’re using is old and expired, then your bread won’t rise properly and you may end up with an unappetizing loaf.
Proper Kneading & Scaling Techniques: Kneading and scaling are two key techniques that you should master when it comes to making bread dough. Make sure to knead the dough for at least 10 minutes and when it comes to scaling it out, use a light dusting of flour instead of too much.
Controlling Temperature & Humidity Levels: Temperature and humidity play an important role in the success of your bread dough, so make sure you’re controlling for these levels in the kitchen. If the room is too hot or humid, it can affect the rise or the texture of the bread.
Repurposing Leftover Dough: If you have some extra dough, don’t throw it out! You can repurpose your leftover bread dough into buns, pizza dough, focaccia, and even cinnamon rolls. Don’t let your dough go to waste!
Storing and Freezing Unbaked Dough: If you’re not ready to bake your bread, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to three days or freeze it for up to three months. When you’re ready to use it, just thaw the dough in the fridge overnight and let it come up to room temperature before baking.
Baking Times & Temperatures: Once you’ve got your bread dough ready, it’s time to bake it! French bread usually needs to be baked at 425°F for 25-30 minutes. Make sure to check the bread’s internal temperature with a thermometer for accuracy.
Knowing When the Bread is Ready: You’ll know the bread is ready when the top is golden brown and the bottom is crisp. You can also tap on the bottom of the loaf; if it sounds hollow, then the bread is ready.
Preheating the Oven & Using Different Pans: Remember to preheat your oven before baking your bread. You can also use different pan types for baking, such as baking sheets, baking stones, and baking tiles.
Troubleshooting Common Mistakes: It happens to the best of us; sometimes bread just doesn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. Common mistakes include overkneading, overbaking, not using enough water, and more. If you run into issues with your bread, double check the recipe and make sure you’re using the correct techniques.
Making French bread is a labor of love, but the end result is oh-so worth it! Whether you’re a seasoned baker or a novice, you can easily make a delicious loaf of French bread with a few simple ingredients, some patience, and a sprinkle of elbow grease. So make sure to keep these best practices in mind when you’re ready to start baking. Bon appétit!