French bread is actually defined by law in France - something about the ingredients (namely: no preservatives) and the way it's baked.

This weekend, I attempted to make my own baguette. The result wasn't as delicious as the chewy, crusty breads I've had in France but it was much more delicious than the pathetic loaves posing as French bread in my local grocery store.

1-2/3 cups bread flour (high protein, high gluten)
1 teaspoon dry active yeast (half package)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon oil (something neutral like canola or vegetable)
1 tablespoon cornmeal (to sprinkle on pan)

30 minutes prep - mixing and kneading dough
1 hour rising time
10 minutes - punch down dough and shape into baguette
1 hour rising time
30 minutes baking time
3 hours, 10 minutes

Start by blooming the yeast. Like I've mentioned before, this step is crucial because you can test the yeast and find out whether or not it's really active. Combine water, yeast, and sugar and let sit for five minutes. If the mixture looks frothy, the yeast is alive. If not, you must start over.

Slowly mix the ingredients using a fork or wooden spoon. Stir just in the center, slowly incorporating more and more flour until the mixture is stiff and can no longer be handled using the fork. (Or you can use a stand mixer if you have one, of course).

Knead the dough by hand until it is no longer sticky and form into a ball.
Add a little oil to a bowl, roll the dough ball in the oil until coated. Score the top of the dough with an 'X' and cover with saran wrap or a moist towel.

Leave the dough somewhere warm and let it rise until it has doubled in size (about 1 hour). The scored 'X' is helpful because it shows how much the dough has risen.

Keep rolling the dough until you have a loaf that's about 12" long with a 3" diameter.

Let the dough rise for another hour until it has doubled in size again.
Prepare a water bath in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. The water bath will create a steamy environment in the oven which will help the dough's surface stay moist and cause it to rise more. About 15 minutes into baking, remove the water bath.
This step is optional: after removing the water bath (15 minutes into baking), remove the loaf from the oven and brush (or spray) the surface with water. This will help form a hearty crust on the outside of the bread. Put the loaf back in the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Now that your bread is baked, what can you do with it? Always slice it using a serrated knife. If you try and use a chef's knife, you'll just squish the bread. Spread some butter on one side of the bread.
Toast the slices in a frying pan until the butter browns slightly. Flip over and let the non-buttered side also get warmed up.
Now you have some buttered toast.
Or you can top it with an egg for some protein.
Or you can top it with some slices of brie cheese and red raspberry jam for a sweet and savory treat.
Bon appetit!


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