French Bread Tutorial – By Hand – Picture & Video instructions

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I have made several loafs and I have experienced many of the ups and downs. Its taken me some time to find the right measurements that work for me.I am providing picture and video instructions. Its not easy to explain the proper texture of bread it is something you learn as you go. However I wish I had a tutorial like this to help me out. I also proved a link to a video (not by me) for french style kneading, which is my preferred style for this dough.

Depending on how you go about this bread recipe by hand or with a stand mixture will play a roll in how long it takes you. Plan on 3 or 4 hours from start to finish.

This is a cost saving way to eat bread too. To create a loaf cost about $.75 or less depending on how much your ingredients cost.

I have done lots of research and I will tell you I have tried other peoples recipes with no success. My Mr.Tasteful has a sophisticated palate ( what attracted me to him) he is not easily swayed by all my meals compared to other family members. So when my Mr.Tasteful says “ohhh, really great bread, are you going to promote it?” I know I have done something right! I am a little OCD when it comes to things and I am somewhat of a perfectionist of myself, not of others! So I think I have done well to create a great at home French Bread. I was overjoyed when I learned my sister in-law Tinker Bell tried my recipe. She contacted me one day while she was making a big batch of bread dough. She was a little concerned about the texture of the dough. I asked her “are you using my recipe?”, then I realized “wait I never posted it!!!” She laughed and said “exactly”, HAHA it was funny you had to be me. So I tried to direct her via text then a long phone call on everything I could recall. She did a great job for her 1st attempt with my recipe. There were a couple things I forgot to tell her, but in all honestly I have made those same errors. I warned of the possible faults of the bread, just so she was aware. She said “whatever happens it will be a vast improvement over the last time she made french bread (using another recipe), when I made it the loaf looked pretty but was so hard you could beat someone with it”…hahahahah. So I frantically waited for an update on the bread. She reported “it’s magically delicious, OMG better then store bought”. Her dear hubby Spider Man even praised her for her job well done. That made my day!!! So I told Tinker Bell I would get writing on my blog post so she can have better directions.

Tools: Spray Bottle (Dollar Store), Cooling Rack = $5.00-$10.00, Parchment Paper $3.00, Digital thermometer $15.00, cookie sheet, casserole dish, dry measuring cup, wet measuring cup.

Measuring: Its important that you use the proper measuring cups. If cup has a spout, this is for liquid. A flat surface this is for dry. You use flat measuring cups for flour. Before you remove the flour shake flour up in bag, then use a spoon to scoop up and place into cup. This allows the flour not to be compact. If you don’t you could be using more then 1 cup.

Flour: Bread flour is a must! I’ve tried all purpose but I prefer the texture of bread flour.

Dough Texture: I am using a well hydrated dough. This is the key to making good bread. Don’t be afraid of sticky dough. A dough easier to knead will not lead to a better bread.

Kneading: When you use a wet dough it can be tricky to knead. If you are using a stand mixer you may not have the same concern compared to one who kneads by hand. I choose to use the french technique because it eliminates more flour. Here is a link to educate yourself on how to knead.

French Kneading style video

1st demo on video is the French Style. There are other videos if you want further education.

To me this demonstrates perfectly why I like the french style when dealing with a sticky dough. You can see when he moves onto the 2nd type of kneading the dough sticks to the counter. When you have a wet dough this makes for frustration.

Salt: Do not add salt until after dough rest. This allows the yeast to work easier, salt can kill off the yeast.

Water: You need warm water, not hot or cold water. Proper water temperature helps active yeast. I highly suggest a digital thermometer. When I bought mine it cost me $15 from Walmart. This is a tool that has many usages and worth the cost.

Yeast: You can use whatever yeast you want, however I use fast acting/quick rise yeast. One because I don’t need to activate yeast in water & sugar before hand. It is a time saver. If you only have dry active yeast, you can still use. You just will need to activate and follow directions on your package. Also make sure you subtract amount of water used from French Bread Recipe. If you buy yeast in large containers and not individual sealed packages, you may need to activate it even though it is a fast/quick rise yeast. Unless its new and you store it properly. I prefer individual packaged yeast because there is less of a chance to go bad.

Sponge: Sponge helps develop more flavor for your bread and creates a different texture. I have made my bread recipe several times without a sponge. You don’t need it, however if you can please try it. You will need to follow directions for substitutions. Tutorial will include sponge directions. However easy to remove. Sponge will double up. Depending on how warm your kitchen is will depend on how fast the yeast builds. You are suppose to wait for the yeast to bubble, then drop, once it drops or deflates its ready to use. I did NOT wait for my sponge to drop/deflate. I started my sponge at 10pm the night before. Then started my dough at 11am (13 hours – my kitchen was very cold, around 60 degrees). While preparing my dough I did warm my oven to 200 degrees, then turned off. Placed sponge into the warm oven. It was only in there for 30-45 mins, and it increased by 1 cup in size, however still did not deflate. You only use 1 cup of sponge per recipe. You will need to use up the remainder of the sponge by the next day, or feed the sponge with more flour and water to keep it alive (of course that will make a sour dough bread)

My other tip is to work in small batches of dough until you can understand the correct texture of dough, and learn how to work with wet dough. I love kneading dough by hand, its not hard once you teach yourself. Don’t be afraid, we encourage our children to learn something new everyday and to keep practicing. So why don’t we apply that to ourselves as adults? Here is your chance to learn something new.

French Bread Recipe

3 cups of Bread Flour

1 & 1/2 cup of warm water (110 degrees)

1 packet Fast or Rapid Rise yeast

1 & 1/4 tSp fine sea salt (or table salt, but I like flavor of sea salt)

Only use in addition if needed

1/2 cup of bread flour (only for dusting & kneading)

2 tBs warm water (110 degrees – only if needed)

Sponge – optional

1 cup of bread flour

1 cup water (only use warm 110 degree water if you want do a fast sponge 6hrs)

1/4 tSp of yeast – I open yeast package and measure out 1/4 tsp. Then close package and store in fridge. Then I use the rest of the package with bread recipe.

Directions

-If making sponge you will need to do this at least 10 hours in advance. I will do it night before. You can leave for up to 18-24 hours. Mix water, flour and yeast into a large bowl (I prefer glass), Cover and let sit for at least 10 hours, up until 18 hours. Directions for sponge: If using sponge you will need to replace the flour and water ratio with different measurements. Your sponge may have developed into 2-3 cups. However you will only use 1 cup per recipe. One cup of sponge will equal 1/2 cup of your flour and 1/2 cup of water from the bread recipe. I recommend if using a sponge, only measure out 2 & 1/2 cups of bread flour and 1 & 1/4 cup of warm water for the following directions.

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-Warm water to 110 degrees. I like to heat up on stove top then place in measuring cup and take temperature. Only because I read about how a microwave kills. Seriously only takes a few extra seconds.

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-Add 3 cups of bread flour, and pour dry yeast directly into flour to a large bowl. (no need activate yeast- unless you are using dry active yeast. please see notes on yeast.) (if using sponge please look at notes above under sponge for yeast measurement)

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-then add 1 & 1/2 cup of warm water and mix together with your hands or spoon. You can tell if you have enough water when you pull the dough and it stretches high. Below is picture of to little water. If the dough does not stretch far and breaks from dough quickly, add 1 tSp of water at a time, mix, then test dough again. Keep adding 1 tSp of water until you reach proper consistency. If you think its to wet, don’t worry!!

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– once mixed well and the proper flour texture has been achieved. Cover bowl and let dough sit and rest for 15-20 min. I know sometimes we are in a rush and think we can skip this step. No you cant! You need the flour to absorb the water properly. If you are rushed for time, you can wait 10 min. I don’t recommended longer then 20 min because you are using fast/quick rising yeast.

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-After dough has rested sprinkle salt evenly over dough and squish away and make sure well mixed.

– If you using a sponge add it now. Mix well.

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-Depending on temperature of you kitchen will depend on how fast the dough rises. If kitchen is cold, turn oven on and pre-heat to 200 degrees.

-Once dough has reached this consistency its ready for kneading – add little flour at a time (1 or 2 tSp at a time)

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– Time to knead the dough. Kneading by hand: Knead for 10 min, let dough rest for 5 min then knead for another 5 min until proper texture. If you are using a stand mixer follow these directions: using dough attachment knead for 5 min, rest for 2 min, knead for another 2 min then rest. You can easily over knead when using a stand mixer. If dough is not done kneading, use you hands and knead for an additional 2 min.

-The dough will be soft and feel like a marshmallow and will be sticky. If you take your finger and indent into dough, the dough will be done if it springs back quickly. If indent remains, knead for another 2 min.

-If dough sticks to your hand, that’s okay, look at how covered my hand is…its okay to lightly dust and knead as you go. Just add a little flour at a time.

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– Oil a bowl. You can use any oil, I do like a spray oil can. If pouring oil, add about 1 tSp of oil and slather around bowl.

– Shape dough into a ball. Then place in oiled bowl. Make sure to rub oil on top of ball of dough.

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– Turn off oven. Then cover bowl. You can use a damp towel or plastic wrap. Placing in warm. You should only need 45 min for dough to rise and double in size. If you used dry active dough it may take longer from 45-1hr or longer to double in size. If you get bubbles like I did, this is a good note its done.

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-Once dough doubles in size. DON’T PUNCH it down. Remove from bowl and place on counter. Using your finger tips break up bubbles. and shape into a square.

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-To shape dough: Fold from top to bottom, then take left side and fold to right. Then take right side and fold to left. then take bottom and fold to the top. Then using fingers tap down again and make sure bubbles are removed. Then fold again from top, left, right and bottom. Then take top and fold to the middle and press down to seal. Then then take bottom and seal into the middle. Then from one side take from middle and gently stretch out, then do other side. Then seal all edges by pinches tight.

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– Proofing: Take a sheet of parchment paper (please use) longer then bread and I place inside a large casserole dish (10×14). Then place shaped dough into casserole dish, with one side up against one side of the wall. Then take anything that will fit and place against other side. Cover with a lightly damp tea towel. Place inside oven (make sure oven is turned off). If you don’t think oven is warm enough you can pre-heat it up again on 200 degrees before place dough inside for proofing. Wait about 30-45 min for dough to puff up.

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-After 30 min I recommend turning oven to 500 degrees (make sure bread is not in the oven!!!!) and setting dough on the stove top while you wait for oven to pr-heat. I have had an issue where the bottom of my pan gets to hot and starts to cook the bottom. So you can place on your counter or place another pan upside down for you dish to sit on.

– Transfer bread from casserole dish to a large cookie sheet or a pizza pan. Grab the ends of parchment paper and lift onto cookie sheet.

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– Once oven has reached 500 degrees. With a extremely sharp knife of razor blade (clean and new) make at least 3 slices across top of dough. Its best not to slice straight down, you will need to hold at an angle. If you do not have a sharp knife or razor, please just skip this step. You bread may loose all the puff and fall flat.

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– I recommend using a spray bottle and spraying the bread dough down with water (don’t soak, just two sprays to cover dough). If you find you don’t have a spray bottle. You can try and sprinkle water with your finger tips (not the best way). Or boil some water, then place in a oven safe dish and place on bottom rack.

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– Place bread into hot oven, close immediately. Then turn oven down to 450 or if you oven runs hot, 425.

-Turn timer on for 20 min. if you are using a spray bottle (which is my prefer method) after 10 min has passed, open oven and spray bread again, close oven and finish baking.

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– At 2o min, check color of the bread and the bottom of the bread. You want a golden brown. If its not dark enough continue to bake for 5 min. Check you bread and using oven mits, lift the bottom and tap to see if it sound hollow.

– Once 25 min has passed, remove from oven. I recommend placing bread on a cooling rack, this keeps the heat from causing the bread to get damp. You must let the bread rest for at least 20 min!! Yes this important!! You bread will feel hard as a rock. After about 20 min your bread will start to feel softer. Think of it when you cook meat, you want it to rest before slicing. Waiting to slice your bread is important because it allows the internal temperature to continue cooking the bread and allowing the bread to rest to proper texture. They say to let your bread rest up to 2 hours! That’s not possible unless I made my bread early on before serving it with my meal. So I say at least 20-30 min rest.

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– Enjoy!

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