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This easy French bread recipe uses only 4 ingredients and makes the best homemade oven-baked loaf. Learn how to make bakery French bread that's crispy right out of the oven and becomes soft and chewy as it cools.
What is French bread?
This homemade French bread is made with flour, water, yeast, and salt. It can be mixed either by hand or a stand mixer and shaped into your favorite form. Once baked, the crust is golden and crispy. As it cools, it becomes a super soft French loaf you can use for anything.
Why you'll love this recipe
- easy for any bread baking level - This simple bread recipe is tried and trusted among bread beginners and skilled bakers alike.
- only four ingredients - You only need flour, water, yeast, and salt to make French bread dough. Of course you also need a tiny amount of oil to prevent the dough sticking during the proofing phase.
- two yeast options - This recipe includes instructions to use instant yeast or active dry yeast.
- two mixing methods - You can hand-knead the dough or use an electric mixer – both methods are included.
- economical - The ingredients for this homemade French bread are a fraction of the cost of store bought bread.
- enjoyment - It's fun and relaxing to make bread at home, especially when your whole house smells like a bakery.
How to make French bread
Here's a brief overview. Visit the printable recipe card below for detailed instructions.
- Combine water and yeast and bloom yeast if needed.
- Add flour and salt.
- Mix and knead the dough with a stand mixer or by hand.
- 1st proofing - This means to allow dough to double in size. You can even proof dough in the Instant Pot to accelerate this process.
- Deflate and reshape to prep for 2nd proofing.
- 2nd proofing - This is optional but recommended for gluten development.
- Deflate and shape dough into a baguette, oval, round, or loaf.
- Final proofing - This means allow the final form to expand before baking.
- Bake the French loaf.
- Cool and store.
Stand mixer bread vs hand kneaded bread
This soft French bread recipe can be easily kneaded with an electric mixer or by hand. In fact, I bounce between both mixing methods, depending on the batch size I want to make. So, I included instructions for both methods in the recipe below.
How to knead French bread in the stand mixer
I use my 5 quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer for this bread recipe, which yields about 2 pounds of dough. This size is perfect for my 5 quart mixer with the dough hook attachment because it mixes and kneads without any delay. I've noticed the mixer struggles with smaller batches because the attachment can't reach the ingredients to effectively gather and knead the dough.
To mix dough in a stand mixer: Secure the dough hook attachment. Use lowest speed to mix and knead ingredients into a cohesive, smooth, elastic dough (about 3-5 minutes). Sprinkle reserved flour into the bowl as needed during the entire mixing process to prevent the dough sticking to the bowl sides. You may also need to stop the mixer and pull the dough back into cohesion with a spatula or your hands.
By the way, if you're shopping stand mixers, I create an article and YouTube video comparing two Kitchen Aid stand mixer models that has helped countless people decide which one to get.
How to knead French bread by hand
Hand-kneading - It's good to know how to knead dough without an electric mixer. In fact, I usually hand knead this French bread recipe when I make a half batch (1-pound dough yield) because my hands can incorporate and knead smaller batches more efficiently than the mixer.
To hand knead: Stir ingredients together (using a utensil or your hands) in a large mixing bowl until a shaggy dough forms. Transfer dough to a steady surface and hand-knead until a cohesive, elastic dough forms (about 3-5 minutes). Sprinkle the reserved flour in small amounts as needed to prevent the dough sticking to the table or your hands during the entire process.
You can proof homemade French bread using different methods. Proofing dough in the Instant Pot is my favorite! It creates the ideal environment to proof at a constant temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's so convenient because your dough doubles in size in only 45 minutes, even in a chilly or drafty environment.
French bread shapes
Shaping French bread is half the fun! You can shape a baguette, sandwich loaf, oval, or round. A baguette pan or loaf pan isn't required, but they help to maintain shape and height, which is great for bread beginners, especially if your dough texture is a bit loose.
Here are some 'before and after' examples of my French bread shapes.
French sandwich loaf in a loaf pan
Free-form oval sandwich loaf on a mini baking sheet
Tools and equipment
These are bare minimum bread tools needed for this recipe. Optional tools are listed in the recipe card below.
- mixing bowl - to mix bread dough by hand and/or proof dough
- stand mixer - if not kneading by hand
- measuring cups and spoons
- instant-read thermometer - used to gauge water temperature and baked bread temperature
- dough whisk - or stirring utensil to combine ingredients
- your hands - to knead dough if not using a stand mixer
- baking sheet
- parchment paper - or oil or cooking spray for bakeware
- bread lame - or razor blade to score the dough
- oven mitts - for safe handling of hot bread and bakeware
Can you freeze French bread?
Yes! Allow the loaf to cool completely and freeze in an airtight bag or freezer-safe container up to 30 days. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for a few hours.
Recommended bread recipes
- How to Make Crostini
- Homemade Croutons
- Cranberry Walnut Bread
- Best Bread Stuffing
- How to Dry Out Bread
Serve French bread with these entrees
There's nothing better than dinner served with fresh homemade French bread. Grab any one of these mouthwatering entrees made for Instant Pot or stove!
- Lasagna Soup
- Instant Pot Chicken Alfredo
- Chickpea Kale Soup
- Split Pea Soup
- Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
- Sausage Soup
- Minestrone Soup
- White Bean Kale Soup
Easy French Bread Recipe
Yields about 1 ½ pounds dough (780 g)
- 1 ⅓ cup Warm Water (315 g) see instructions for temperature
- 1 (¼ ounce packet) Quick Rise Instant Yeast or 2 ¼ tsp Active Dry Yeast
- 1 ½ teaspoon Sea Salt *see recipe footnote
- 3 ½ cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour (480 g) do not pack it down
- Olive Oil or cooking spray
- Combine *WARM WATER and YEAST in mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl fitted with the dough hook attachment.* Active Dry Yeast needs 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature. Combine and allow 5 minute rest until the yeast surfaces.* Quick Rise Instant Yeast needs 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature. Combine and proceed to step 2.
- Add FLOUR and SALT (reserve ½ cup flour to assist mixing). Stir ingredients together with a utensil (or stand mixer on lowest speed) until a shaggy dough forms.
- Mix and knead dough with your hands (or stand mixer on low speed) about 5 minutes until it becomes stretchy and pliable. During mixing, sprinkle tiny amounts of the reserved flour into the bowl to prevent sticking.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a tight, round form, tucking the sides under to form a seam on the bottom.
- Perform 1st proof/rise by placing dough in an oil-coated mixing bowl (or Instant Pot), seam side down. Cover with a towel or draped plastic wrap and allow to double in size.
- Deflate the dough (aka punch it down) to remove air bubbles. You can move on to the next step, or...Perform 2nd proof/rise by shaping the dough into a tight round and repeat step 5. (The 2nd proof/rise is optional, but recommended to further develop texture and flavor)
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and let's shape these loaves...Transfer the dough onto lightly floured surface. Press to deflate air pockets and divide dough into 2 or 3 equal sections.Press each piece into a loose rectangle shape.Fold and press dough into itself until it becomes tight while forming it into the final shape (baguette, loaf, or round).Transfer to a prepared baking sheet or loaf pan. Brush surface with olive oil and cover to prevent air exposure.
- Perform final proof/rise by resting forms in a warm spot until nearly doubled in size.Score the dough by making ¼-inch slits across each loaf with a sharp tool.
- Bake 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, as needed for even browning.Fully baked French bread will be crisp and golden brown. If tested with a quick-read thermometer, it should be between 190 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.Note: The crisp surface will completely soften once it cools.
- Transfer loaves onto a cooling rack and rest 5 minutes.Remove loaves from pans and rest on the cooling rack until completely cooled (to retain moisture).Store cooled bread in a plastic bag or airtight container up to 2 days at room temperature or 5 days in the refrigerator.
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- digital scale - weigh ingredients and bread dough
- Instant Pot - for proofing dough
- plate or lid that covers the Instant Pot during dough proofing
- dough whisk - combines dough ingredients before kneading
- bowl scraper - helps remove sticky dough from mixing bowl
- sandwich loaf pan or baguette pan - helps shape and add height to loaves
- bread knife - serrated edges will cut straight lines