Easy French bread recipe made with flour, water, yeast, and salt in a stand mixer or by hand. A soft, chewy inside and crispy crust make this the BEST bread recipe for sandwiches, toast, crostini, and croutons! This homemade bread for beginners can be proofed in the Instant Pot too!
If HAND-KNEADING,use 4-quart mixing bowl. If using STAND MIXER, secure the mixer bowl with the dough hook attachment.
Step 1: Combine WARM WATER and YEAST (Active Dry or Instant)
ACTIVE DRY YEAST (activation required):Combine WARM WATER (100°-110°F) and ACTIVE DRY YEAST in your mixing bowl. Allow to rest until yeast appears foamy on the surface (about 5 min). Go to step 2.RAPID RISE INSTANT YEAST PACKET (no activation required):Combine WARM WATER (120°F-130°F) and INSTANT YEAST in your mixing bowl. No activation needed. Go to step 2.
Step 2: Add ingredients
Add FLOUR and SALT (the separate 1/3 cup of flour may or may not be needed during mixing). Go to Step 3.
Step 3: Mix and Knead (Hand Knead or Stand Mixer)
HAND KNEAD: Mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon (or any stirring utensil) to form a shaggy dough. Transfer dough to a steady surface and hand-knead until a cohesive, elastic dough forms (3-5 minutes). Sprinkle the reserved flour in small amounts as needed to build structure and prevent the dough sticking to the table or your hands during this process.STAND MIXER OPTION: Secure dough hook with the mixing bowl. Use lowest speed to mix and knead ingredients into a cohesive, smooth, elastic dough forms (3-5 min). You may need to stop the mixer and scrape ingredients into the dough if they get separated. Sprinkle in the reserved flour to prevent the dough sticking to the bowl sides, as needed during mixing.
Proof the dough
Once mixed, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead it a few times to remove air bubbles. Shape into a ball, tucking the dough under itself to form a seam.
PROOF DOUGH WITH INSTANT POT1st proof: Oil the stainless insert. Place dough inside, flip to coat it, and rest it seam side down. Cover pot with any glass lid or plate, select “yogurt” button and toggle the "adjust" button to the "less" setting. Don't worry about the number setting, just allow the dough to double in size (takes 30-60 min).2nd proof: Once dough size doubles, remove it, punch it down and pull in the sides to tighten it back up, oil the insert again, and repeat proofing process (about 30 min).PROOF DOUGH WITHOUT INSTANT POT1st proofing: Place dough in a large, oiled, mixing bowl, flip to coat it, and rest seam side down. Loosely cover with draped plastic wrap or a flour-coated towel. Allow to rise in a warm environment (minimum 75°F) until doubled (60-90 min).2nd proofing: Punch dough down to deflate the air. Form again into firm ball, return to oiled mixing bowl, cover, and rise another 30 minutes.
Shape dough into final form and final proofing
Preheat oven to 450°.
Shape the dough: Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Tuck and shape dough into your preferred form, which will either be 1) a loaf pan or 2) free-form (round, loaf, or baguette).Note: The images in this recipe are a free-form loaf on a small baking sheet.
Place formed dough into 1) coated loaf pan or 2) coated baking sheet (for free-form).
Brush oil on the dough surface or spray mist some water and a light dusting of flour. (This is just a matter of preference for final presentation).
Final proofing: Score the dough 1/8” deep with a razor blade; cover loaf with a piece of plastic, wax paper, or a flour coated towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled (15-30 min).
Bake the French bread
Bake at 450° for 25 minutes (for a loaf) or 20 minutes (for a baguette).The loaf or baguette will be browned on the surface and should have a hollow sound on the inside when tapped with your fingers.FOR A CRISPER CRUST: Turn the oven off and leave the bread in for 5 minutes (for a crispier surface), or remove bread immediately.
Transfer bread onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool (as much as humanly possible) before slicing.
Rapid Rise Instant Yeast Notes
Water temperature: should be 120° - 130°F for instant yeast.
Rising time: Instant yeast dough will rise quicker than dough with active dry yeast. Pay attention to the rise, when it has doubled, it's ready to punch down.
How to know if bread dough has been kneaded enoughWhen dough reaches a certain stage of gluten development, it will pass these tests:
pull test - dough doesn't tear when you pinch and tug some away from the ball of dough. So, if you can 'stretch' the dough without it immediately tearing, it's a good indicator that it has been kneaded enough.
windowpane test - dough doesn't tear when you stretch a small portion thinly enough to see light coming through.
poke test - dough springs back when you make an indentation with your finger
Properly kneaded dough will have elasticity that stretches nicely and doesn't immediately tear. Think about how taffy (stretches) and cotton candy (tears and breaks) when you pinch some and pull it off.If bread dough doesn't rise, consider these possibilities
Yeast might be expired or, if fresh yeast, was not refrigerated.
Water is too warm (over 105°F) for the (active dry) yeast and killed it.
Water isn't warm enough to activate the yeast.
Mixed dough didn’t rise long enough.
Proofing environment wasn't warm enough.
The dough proofed too long and deflated.
To make dough ahead and bake later
Give dough the first rise, then punch down, shape into a tight ball.
Place in oiled bowl loosely covered in fridge.
On baking day, remove from fridge and let it come to room temp.
Shape into desired form, place in oiled pan or baking sheet, and bake.