A single loaf french bread is one of the most versatile and easiest loaves to learn. If you are just setting out on a bread baking journey, give this fluffy interior/crispy exterior classic a try.
Almost any American grocery store has a rack of those horrible “french” bread loaves. You know what I’m talking about–as big as two footballs end to end, soft and flavorless. Plus the amount of preservatives and dough stabilizers they contain are enough to make you wonder if bread really is hard to make.
Bread is simple and the ingredient list should be too.
Is this an authentic french bread recipe?
Absolutely not. The term “french bread” is actually an American idea anyway. The traditional French breads like baguette and brioche are classics that this soft loaf just can’t touch.
What you’ll need for this single loaf french bread:
- Flour (bread flour or all purpose, but I used all purpose here)
- Yeast (I used active dry but I’ll give you subs for instant in a minute)
- Sea salt
- Warm water
Is a stand mixer necessary for this recipe?
No not at all. Just use a bowl, spoon and good old elbow grease. You’ll need to mix and knead close to double the length of time specified for a stand mixer.
How to make single loaf french bread
Mix everything together in your stand mixer or bowl except the last 1/4 cup of flour.
Mix until starting to get smooth, then let the dough sit for a few minutes to hydrate the flour.
Knead the dough by hand then transfer to an oiled bowl to double. Watch the bread and not the clock.
Shape the risen dough into a 14 inch oval to roll up for shaping.
Pinch the seam closed and place it seam side down on your baking tray.
Let it rise slightly, then cut three or four slashes in the top.
What’s the water in the oven for when baking french bread?
Steam helps make the crust on the bread. Make sure to add the pan of water to the oven in time to get it steaming before the bread goes in.
Add hot water to the pan to speed things along and keep the oven door closed to hold the steam in during baking.
Why did my french bread not rise?
French bread that doesn’t rise is almost always an issue with your yeast. Did you activate it in water first? If not, always start there and make sure you see some foam coming to the top of the water.
If you used instant yeast, your water may not have been warm enough to wake up the yeast. Go ahead and activate it in water next time to make sure it’s alive.
Yeast can also expire. Check the date on the yeast packaging to make sure it’s not expired before you start baking.
Why is my french bread dense?
This happens for beginners. Don’t worry. Usually dense bread is because you added too much flour during kneading, weighed your dry ingredients incorrectly or your yeast wasn’t activated. Next time:
- Test your yeast first
- Avoid the temptation to add more flour
- Measure out the flour and level it with the back of a knife
How to freeze the leftovers
You can freeze french bread with great success. Freeze the loaf whole or cut slices, reassemble them like a loaf and wrap well in plastic wrap and foil or put it into a container like this Lock&Lock . Take out a slice as you need it and leave the rest in the freezer.
A loaf can stay in the freezer for up to six weeks if it’s well wrapped.
Using active dry yeast
I often use active dry yeast that requires activation in water. If you are new to baking, you can activate either active dry or the instant yeast in this recipe in the water used in the recipe before adding it to the flour.
If you are a confident baker, go ahead and add your instant yeast to the flour, mix it in, then add the salt and warm water. Make sure your water is warm enough to activate the yeast and you should be fine from there.
Can this single loaf french bread recipe be doubled?
I don’t think I’d do an 8-cup recipe with this. Instead, use two bowls and make the batches separately. Sometimes bread doesn’t like to be doubled and the final result can be unpredictable.
Tips for keeping french bread fresh
- Bread hates the refrigerator. Prolong the life of your loaves by keeping bread at room temperature.
- Avoid cutting slices if you don’t need to. The more air that can reach the bread’s surfaces, the drier it will get.
- Allow your bread to cool completely before slicing. The texture of bread really sets during cooling and if you slice it and let the steam out then moisture escapes and the remaining bread dries out.
- Store your bread in an air tight container or wrap it well in plastic wrap. Homemade bread will stay fresh for about three days.
When french bread starts to go stale
Don’t hesitate to use your day old (or older) bread. Make croutons, bread puddings or Panzanella salad, or pulse the bread in the food processor for bread crumbs to top your next mac and cheese.
What to serve with french bread
The possibilities are almost endless. Of course we think of the Italian classics like spaghetti and meatballs or fetuccine alfredo. Slather your french bread slices in garlic butter and toast it up with a bit of cheese for the ultimate accompaniment.
And of course dippin’ oil. This best bread dip recipe is a winner and works as an appetizer you’ll crave.
Butter inspiration recipes for bread
But even with the beautiful blank slate that french bread is, butter makes it better every time.
There are 9 flavored butters in this post to check out. I’d love the jalapeno lime or sun dried tomato options!
- 4 cups all purpose flour 1/4 cup set aside
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast 7 grams/ 1 packet ; active dry works, see Note 1
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- Add 3 ¾ cups flour, yeast and salt to stand mixer.
- Add the water and mix with the paddle attachment to combine. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium 2 minutes. Let the dough rest 5 minutes in the bowl.
- Mix 3 more minutes on medium, then add the remaining ¼ cup flour. Turn out and knead until smooth and elastic–about 5 to 7 minutes. Use only a tablespoon or two of extra flour while kneading.
- Transfer to a greased bowl, turning to coat then cover and rise until doubled: 1 ½ hours or so.
- Preheat the oven to 450. Place an 8×8 pan of hot water on the bottom rack.
- Shape the dough into a 14-inch log. Rest the dough 30 minutes, then cut three or four diagonal slashes in the top and transfer quickly to the oven.
- Bake 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.