Is there anything better than fresh french bread, hot out of the oven? The smell, the crisp crust and the soft and fluffy inside… it’s enough to make my mouth water, just thinking about it. I remember years ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest, having dinner at my best friend Cort’s house. I can’t remember what she cooked for dinner, but I remember that she made the most amazing, melt-in-your-mouth delicious french bread, and I couldn’t stop eating it. I’m going to blame it on my pregnancy (although it’s not like anything has changed since then…), but I just kept shoving slice after delicious slice into my mouth. I probably ate at least half a loaf by myself (sorry, Cort!). At the time, I was terrible at baking bread, and after that night I added “bake perfect bread like Cort” to my lifetime goals list. I asked Cort for her recipe, of course, but she bakes so much by feel and intuition that it was nearly impossible for me to replicate her bread.
Years passed, and I bought myself a stand mixer and learned how to make amazing bread, but french bread still eluded me. And then I stumbled across the recipe below, and reached french bread nirvana. It’s everything I could ever want in a french bread. The flavor and texture are spot on, and it’s the perfect bread side for soup night. It also makes delicious sandwiches, french toast, and even french bread pizza! I’ve made this recipe dozens of times, and it always comes out of the oven golden brown and perfect. It’s one of my favorites to bring when we have dinner with friends, and everyone is always surprised I made it myself, because it’s so perfect! (I’m a little surprised myself, to tell the truth.) You definitely need this recipe in your arsenal!
The Best Soft French Bread
2 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
5-6 cups flour
1 teaspoon cornmeal
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit until foamy and bubbly. Add the salt, oil, and 3 cups of flour, and mix until smooth. Add additional flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your finger when tapped lightly. Let the dough rest ten minutes, then stir it down (I just turn my mixer on for a few seconds). Repeat four more times, stirring the dough down in between the rise intervals.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment or silicone and sprinkling with cornmeal. Divide the dough in half, then roll each half out into a rectangle that is approximately 9 inches by 13 inches. Starting at the long side, roll the dough up into a long cylinder. Place seam side down on the prepared baking sheet, and repeat with remaining dough. Cut 3-4 slashes in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Cover lightly and let rise 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg with a splash of water to make an egg wash. Brush the egg wash over the surface of both loaves. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.
adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe