How to Bake Great French Bread in Your Oven
You can use our French Bread Mix to make great breads in your oven. All you have to add is water. You can shape the loaf as you wish and bake it on a baking sheet. Without doing anything special, your loaf will come out of the oven with a crackly, chewy authentic French bread crust. Enjoy!
Using your stand-type mixer, place 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) warm water in the mixing bowl. The water should be close to 110 degrees. (Use a thermometer; hot water kills yeast.) Add the yeast. Add the mix.
Mix with the dough hook attachment until the water and mix are partially dispersed. Continue mixing at a medium speed for at least four minutes, adding more flour as necessary to form a soft dough ball, one that is slightly sticky to the touch. (Softer dough balls rise better. Water absorption will vary with different kitchen conditions but in most cases, this will be exactly the right hydration. Once the dough is mixed, place it in a large, greased bowl, turning once to coat both sides, and cover with plastic wrap or place the dough and bowl in a plastic proofing bag. Let rise until the dough is full of gas and doubled in volume.
You may form the dough as free-standing loaves, as rolls, or make the bread in bread pans.
If you wish to make free-standing loaves, grease a baking sheet and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Coat your hands with flour and gently form a loaf by pulling the dough around itself to create a slightly stretched skin. You may need to coat your hands several times if the dough is sticky. If necessary, pinch the seams together on the bottom of the loaf. Lay the loaf gently on the prepared baking sheet (seam side dwon). Cover them with plastic wrap. Let double again in size, about one hour.
If you wish to bake bread in pans, lay the formed loaves in the loaf pans, cover, and let rise.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Once the dough has doubled (the loaf should be very puffy) and the oven has heated, gently invert the loaves onto the prepared pan. Immediately take a very sharp knife or razor and make several quick slits about 1/4-inch deep across the top of the loaf and place the loaf in the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until done. The interior of the bread should register at least 185 degrees when an insta-read thermometer is inserted to the center of the loaf. If the bread is browning too quickly, loosely tent the top of the loaf with aluminum foil to deflect heat. Once the loaf is baked, place it on a wire rack to cool. Let it cool before cutting. Store it in a paper bag, not plastic to protect the crust.
Directions for Hand Mixing
You can bake great bread without a mixer. In fact, some of the best bakers prefer the intimacy of working the dough by hand.
Follow the directions, combining the bread mix and all but ¼ cup of the liquid by hand with a spatula. When the dough becomes too heavy to mix with a spatula, instead of adding more water, grease your hands with shortening along with a 15-inch area on a clean counter. Scrape the dough onto the counter. Knead the dough by pressing the heel of your hand into the dough, turning the dough, and then pressing again until the mix is absorbed into the dough. Add more water as necessary until the dough is as moist as you can handle. A softer dough will rise more readily and have a better structure. When the dough is smooth and elastic, it is ready to let rise. Follow the remaining directions.
Helpful Hints for a Better French Bread
- A key to success with this bread (as with most hearth breads) is handling the loaves minimally during shaping so that as much gas as possible is retained.
- French bread must be baked completely to maintain a crisp crust. If the moisture is not driven adequately from the bread, the crust will absorb moisture from the bread as it cools and become soft.
- The correct crust for a French bread should crackle and break when you bite it but you can develop the crust of your choosing. A higher temperature creates a chewier crust; a lower temperature creates a crisper crust.