Baking the Perfect Loaf of French Bread

French Bread

Secrets to Perfect Loaf of French Bread in 3 Hours

Usually, my stand-by recipe is the No Knead Bread (because its so darn easy) but it does require you to mix the dough at least 12 hours prior. When I only have a three hours, this is my recipe which is based on trial-and-error from baking over 40 loaves in the past 8 months. The techniques are a combination of things I learned from Pamela Anderson (no not arm candy, the chef Pam Anderson!), the original No Knead Recipe published in the NY Times and Rose Levy Beranbaum (author of the Bread Bible)

Secret #1: Knead dough with dough hook for 2 minutes. Let it rest for 7 and then knead again for another 3 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, then your formula is 6 min-7 min-7 min. Letting the dough rest at this stage allows the gluten to relax, redistribute, and get all cozy. It results ultimately a smoother, well-mixed dough. After the brief rest, you’ll feel a difference in the dough. Its more supple and soft.

Secret #2: Pinch! When you form the dough into a loaf (see photo below) pinch all ends tightly to create a seal. Basically, you are creating surface tension so that the gas from the yeast (or as Alton Brown describes “When the yeast burps”) the dough expands up and out evenly. If I don’t create this surface tension, the dough in the oven will just go “blah” like Al Bundy on the couch. Something called gravity makes the dough expand down and flat.

Secret #3: Use a pizza stone, cast iron dutch oven or my favorite Pampered Chef Covered Baker. Just make sure that your loaf will fit into the vessel. Stone or cast iron retains heat and radiates the heat of the oven evenly. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, just use a good quality, thick baking sheet, inverted.

Secret #4: Steam = thin, crunchy, beautiful crust. In the No Knead recipe, there is a high proportion of water to flour. Because the No Knead dough rests for multiple hours, lots of water in the recipe works. In this 3 hour french bread recipe, you can’t do that. To make steam (a.k.a. crust) – you have to do one of 2 things, depending on the baking vessel.

-> Pizza stone or baking sheet: Once you put the bread in the oven, throw 1/2 cup of water on the oven floor (electric oven) and immediately close the door. No, it won’t harm the oven. It’s a technique that professional bakers recommend for home ovens (professional ovens have a built in steamers). Once the water hits the hot oven floor, it creates steam, which creates the crust.

Alternatively, place a metal loaf pan or baking sheet on the very bottom rack of the oven, off to one side. Heat the pan while you are preheating the oven. Once you put the bread into the oven, pour 1/2 cup water into the hot pan. Since the pan has been heated, it will produce the steam required. Make sure your heated pan is off to one side of the oven – so that when the steam rises, it can rise up and around the bread (not under it, which makes it harder for the steam to reach the bread)

Basically, cold water in hot pan + hot oven = steam. I have an electric oven (heating element is on the top of oven). Some bakers throw ice cubes in, but I prefer water.

-> Covered baker or dutch oven: You’ll need less water – about 1/4 cup. Once you put the loaf into the very hot pot, throw in the water and over the lid immediately. Put the pot directly in the oven. Because you’ve pre-heated the oven AND the pot for 1 hour, the trapped water in the pot will create steam.

Secret #5: Timing and temperature:

  • Have an instant read thermometer. The internal temperature of the bread should be 190-200F when you pull it out.
  • All ovens are different and I’m sure our loaves will be different shapes.
  • The timing in the recipe below is just a guide for you – this is what works in my oven and how I shape my loaves.
  • Please make sure that you check the internal temp of your bread to gauge doneness.

French Bread Recipe

Servings: 2 loaves Prep Time: Cook Time: 3-4 hours


4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoon active quick rising dry yeast
2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water


1. Put 1/4 cup of bread flour on your clean counter top and reserve. Place remaining 3 3/4 cups bread flour in your mixer bowl. Spoon the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt on the other side. Pour in the warm water and with your regular mixer paddle, mix on low speed until the dough comes together in a mass. Switch to the dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Dough should clear the sides but stick to the bottom. If it is too sticky, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time. If too dry, add 1 tablespoon of water to dough to adjust.

Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

The dough should look like this during the rest:

French Bread

2. Turn the mixer on again and mix for 3 minutes. Take the dough out and place on the counter. Remember that 1/4 cup of flour that we reserved? We’ll use it now. As you knead the dough by hand, incorporate more flour as you need.

Knead by hand until the dough is very satiny, smooth, tight and formed into a nice, compact ball:

French Bread Dough Ball

Place this dough in a large lightly oiled bowl (I use Pam spray). Turn dough over so that all sides have a thin coating of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place for 1 1/2 hours to let rest and rise. Dough should almost double in size.

4. While the dough is rising, about 1 hour into the rising stage, preheat your oven to 450F and place your pizza stone, inverted baking sheet or covered cast iron pot into the oven to heat up. If you are using a loaf pan for steam, also place that into the oven, on the very bottom rack, off to one side of the oven.

5. After the dough has risen fully, punch dough down and form back into a ball. Poke your finger on the surface – the dough should give into the pressure and slowly creep back up.

6. Ok, here’s the fun part. Cut the dough into half – you’ll shape one half at a time (keep the other piece under wraps) Pick up the dough – stretch it out until it forms a big rectangle. Dust your work surface with flour and fold over the ends of the dough like this:

French Bread

Now do a little “karate chop” lengthwise down the middle of the bread and stretch out the long ends again. Fold over in half. The karate chop helps get the middle tucked inside. Pinch all sides shut. This is important – you want to make sure that all ends including the short ends are pinched tightly to create a seal. This allows the bread to rise & expand up and out evenly. If the bread looks a little lopsided, you can try to fix it by letting it rest 5 minutes and gently stretching it out again. Just don’t knead the dough again – you’ll pop all the beautiful gas that took 1.5 hours to create!

Here’s what it should look like:

French Bread

7. Turn the bread over so that it is seam side down. Cover the loaf with a damp kitchen towel. Repeat with the other dough ball. Leave the loaves to rest on your well-floured pizza peel or cutting board for 30 minutes.

8. After bread is done rising, take a sharp paring knife and make 3-4 shallow, diagonal slashes on the surface of the loaf. This allows the steam in the bread to escape so that it expands evenly during the baking process:

French Bread

9. When you are ready to bake, remove your baking vessel from oven. Carefully slide the gorgeous loaf into or onto your baking vessel.

If you are using pizza stone or inverted baking sheet: You can probably fit both loaves on it at the same time, just leave at least 6-8" of space between the loaves. -> Get a 1/2 cup of water ready next to the stove. Open the stove, put your bread in the oven and throw the water on the oven floor or in the pre-heated loaf pan. Immediately close the oven door. This creates your steam. -> Bake 20-25 minutes. Check temperature of the bread – internal temperature should read 190-200F. Remove and let cool before cutting into it.

If you are using a long cast-iron pot or covered baker: -> Before closing the lid on your pot/baker, put 1/4 cup of water directly in the pot. Cover immediately. Put pot in oven. -> Bake 10 minutes. Remove lid of pot. Bake another 14 minutes. Check temperature of the bread – internal should be 190-200F. Remove and let cool before cutting into it. Repeat with other loaf. (For convection ovens- bake 8 min covered, 10-12 min uncovered. Check temperature of bread) To re-crisp the crust, put in 375F oven for 5 minutes. Eat one loaf, share the other loaf with a friend!

French Bread

How about No Knead Bread?

My 4-Year Old Son, Andrew Bakes No Knead Bread

Comments 286

  1. Damian

    This bread was great! Wow so easy. The hardest part is waiting 😉 It would have been fluffier if I didn’t transfer it to the pan I was baking it in but instead just let it sit in there for the last 30 minutes. It’s a two baguette pan. Every time you make something you learn more about the mechanics. I also forgot to score the dough but it seemed to do fine. I was afraid of throwing the water straight into the oven at first cause the heating element is at the bottom, then I was immediately afraid of the bread tasting like the burnt on crud of a thousand years when I smelled the steam but nope! I did add a bit of sugar, like a teaspoon, to the water and put a bit of the yeast in the water and let it sit before dumping it in the bowl. Also used all purpose flour, 500g cause according to 1 cup sifted ap is 125g, plus a teaspoon of vital wheat gluten per cup.

    1. Denise Lynn

      such a great recipe Jaden~~made this after finding it late this afternoon and had it ready for dinner ~~~directions are specific and helpful and more than all of that they do work if you but follow them~~used it as a companion bread to my N’awlin’s Cajun Barbecued Shrimp ~~perfect and one did not even need to leave the house ~~all pantry friendly items ~~I wonder if there is any way to hold the dough overnight in the fridge after the first rise and punch down though as per the no knead bread recipe ~~i think it would be so nice to bake one for the evening meal and have one ready to shape and bake a day or two down the road ~~i did see your comments on ways to freeze it after par baking but did wonder if this method would be possible ~~if so how many days do you think one could possibly hold the dough ~~smile ~~~regards Denise

  2. Lanny

    I was recommended this web site by myy cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by
    him as nobody else know such detailed about my trouble.
    You’re wonderful! Thanks!

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  5. Lauren

    Wow, this bread was great! Sometimes I’m nervous about trying recipes from blogs, because I get so excited and it turns out to be not so great. Then, I’ve wasted the time and ingredients and am totally disappointed. Thanks so much for this recipe. I’ m definitely going to be making it again. It was great!


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  7. Janna

    I loved this recipe! I used it to make my first ever loaf of bread and it turned out perfect! My husband loves it too, and we can even save money making our own bread :) Thank you so much! You made it very easy for a rookie!

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  9. Robin

    I have found this recipe very helpful but I do want to mention one problem I had. I used a pie pan, which is glass, to put the water in, and had the pan explode. I thought it worth mentioning that apparently glass or ceramic can’t handle that kind of temperature change. Part of it definitely was the durability of the Pyrex pan but I think it’s best if a metal pan of some kind is used instead. Other than that, I found the recipe great and very helpful!

  10. Brad

    High Altitude issues. Although I had some challenges the results were incredible. Adjustments must be made for the elevation as water will evaporate at increased percentages above sea level. Hold back 1/2 cup of the flour, some for the kneeling process and 1/4 cup just to have the dough contain more water. When you bake you will reduce your oven temps 1 degree for every 500 feet above sea level. I’m in Reno, NV so I took off ten degrees at each scheduled temperature setting.

    As my loafs were resting/rising on my bake pan, I learned that they need to be separated far enough not to touch each other, also don’t cover them with plastic wrap because it stuck to the loaf and was destructive to the appearance when removed. Prior to the slits in the bread, I mixed an egg white with warm water and washed the top and sides, then sprinkled with coarse salt, it gave the final loafs a beautiful, and crunchy look and the salt enhanced the flavor.

    Crank the oven to 450 with a tray in the bottom that is hot from the pre-heat. That’s 440 to me. Dump a 1/2 cup of water in the lower tray and close the oven door. You will see the steam. After 7 minutes, reduce the heat to 350, for me 350, (elevation). 21 more minutes and check the internal temp. My thermometer is a little off so I pulled the loaves at 170 degrees, shoot for 180-190.

    The bread was a holiday table hit, seriously the best I’ve made. Enjoy.

  11. claire

    i just made this (first time trying french bread, or really any home-made bread) and it turned out perfectly! lightly crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. i was confused, like some others, about how to shape the dough, but i doubt it matters. i folded mine over a few times and ended up with a small square that i put into a preheated cast iron dutch oven. after i put the dough in and before i put the top back on, i poured in 1/4 cup of water and followed the rest of the directions. it is perfect!

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  13. kori

    Mine is baking now but I was very unsure on how large the initial rectangle should be. Do you have an approximate size? The first try my rectangle was quite large and it made my shaped loaf very thin so I knew it wasn’t right.

  14. kori

    It’s finished baking and it is quite delicious. I never can master the Golden brown crust though. Is there a secret other than the steam?

    1. Qrxlm

      Two ways to get the golden crust. Cooking it longer or using an egg wash. If you go with the first route and don’t want to over cook the inside just be sure it is baking closer to the top of the oven for the last few minutes until it reaches the color you want. If you want to go with the second method beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons water (or milk if you want really dark crust). Then, after you have shaped the loaves but before they have risen, brush your loaves with a generous coat of egg wash. Apply one more coat just before baking. Not only will the egg wash help with that golden color, but it will also give the loaves a glossy finish and a nice crackle to the crust.

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  20. Kara

    I have been on a bread baking kick lately and decided to try a French loaf. I came across this blog and it looked so easy I thought I’d give it a go! It turned out perfectly! Thanks so much for sharing this great recipe.

  21. Tracy

    If I use a cast iron pot to bake the bread, should I transfer the bread to the pot first or pour the 1/4 cup water first? Thanks!

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  25. Christy

    I tried making this recipe for the perfect loaf of french bread. I did exactly what the recipe said , but the dough was so hard/dense after the first paddle mix and then the dough hook. it was tough and knocked my bowl off of the holder on my kitchen aid mixer. i had to throw the mass away. My friend makes this all the time and is delicious. WHAT WENT WRONG??

  26. Anna

    This recipe has become a weekend thing for my boyfriend and me. For the last month and a half since I first tried it, I make the bread and a bowl of vegan pesto for us to munch on every Sunday night. Thanks so much!

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  29. Laurie Loader

    How come no pin? I want to save this bread recipe on Pinterest. It’s the best French Bread recipe I’ve come across. YUMMY!

  30. Shelly

    I have a Pampered Chef covered baker and was wondering if you still add the 1/4 cup of water to it. I’m just concerned it would crack since it’s been preheating. I’m glad I found your blog and am excited to try this recipe.

    1. Post

      Hi Shelly,

      I have the same covered baker, and it’s never cracked on me. However, if you are concerned:
      1. Preheat PC covered baker bottom only. Also pre-heat a metal loaf pan, something unbreakable and cheap :-) next to the baker.
      2. Put dough in the baker, slide in oven, uncovered. Pour the water into the metal loaf pan.
      3. The steam comes from the loaf pan.

      While the dough is not covered, it will turn out just perfect! It might not be as super-crusty as a covered pan, but I promise it will be just as delicious!

  31. RB

    The recipe above is correct, but the technique is not, which explains why its product cross section lacks the large holes French bread should have.

    1) I say the recipe is authentic since it follows French law, that French bread must only have four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. Absolutely NO sugar, oil, cornmeal or egg wash should ever touch the bread. I don’t use the word “baguette” since it refers to the long, thin loaves that are very difficult to fit on a home kitchen’s small pizza stone.

    2) The technique above should be tweaked, to get the large holes, in the following manner– turn up the oven as high as it will go (usually 550 F for most home ovens) and heat the stone for at least 1 hour. Place a pan with 2 1/2 inches of cold water on a rack below the stone, as far to one side as possible so as not to be directly underneath the stone. Bake for around 19-23 minutes.

    3) The shaping above is proper, but the dough has to be much more hydrated. It has to be wet enough for the yeast to be able to release large pockets into as it bakes.

    Sorry for sounding like a pedantic Frenchman, but we are talking about French bread!!!

    1. Post
  32. Andrew Schlichting

    I bought dry active yeast by accident. I just dropped it in the warm water for 10 minutes before combining. The resulting dough was a little dry, but the loaves came out nice.

    1. Jan

      If you use regular active dry yeast, you may need to let it rise longer to achieve the near double volume, and you need to punch it down and let it rise again. Shouldn’t take as long the second time. I missed the rapid rise indication the first time I made it this, and it turned out well, but today I made it with the two rises and it is MUCH better.

      1. Post
  33. emm

    I just got a pizza stone and so I’m trying new recipes. But I’m still working on successfully transferring dough to hot stone. I don’t have a pizza peel (yet?), would using parchment paper work for this recipe?

  34. Delaney

    I would love more pictures, specifically of the ‘karate chop’ and dough stretching. I used half whole wheat flour and it turned out beautifully.

  35. Samara

    Such a great recipe. Thank you so much. It was even great when I substituted 2 cups of whole wheat flour for 2 cups of the bread flour.

  36. Anne

    I’m probably missing something here. Does it say anywhere on this page, the temperature the bread should be baked at? I did see 375 degrees to reheat, but what temperature is the bread baked at?

    1. Post

      Hi Annie – It’s Step 4: “4. While the dough is rising, about 1 hour into the rising stage, preheat your oven to 450F”

  37. Leah

    I want to make this bread recipe but do not have bread flour. Is it okay to substitute all purpose flour? I’m a newbie bread maker :) thanks!

    1. Post

      Hi Leah – yes, you can use all-purpose flour, but the texture may not be the same. Bread flour has more gluten than all purpose.

  38. Chris

    I want to try this today. It’s 9am. If the bread is to be eaten at 6pm, can I start it now and refrigerate until around 3pm, or wait till 2 or 3pm to start? If I want to add things, in this case cheese and jalapenos, at what point do I add them? Thanks for the recipe, it sounds delicious!

    1. Post

      Hi Chris – You can go ahead and start now, just leave it to rest on counter. No need to refrigerate. If you are starting early, then what I would mix dough, create the dough ball and cover. Let rest on counter all day for the first rise.

      Later, a half hour before you want bake:
      Heat oven.
      Flatten dough, sprinkle cheese, add jalapeno on top. Do the “karate chop” folding and shaping to enclose the filling. I also like to sprinkle a little cheese on top of shaped loaf for a cheesy crust on bread.

      1. Chris

        Wow, thank you so much Jaden for your fast reply! I’ll let you know how it turns out. This will go great with meatloaf, yum! Next time I’ll try cutie pie Andrew’s No-Knead.

  39. Chris

    Jaden, the bread came out great! I subbed 1 cup of white WW flour and added raw jalapenos, green onions, cilantro, and sharp cheddar. Both DH and I ate too much but we could not stay away from it! I used the steam pan method, but I’m intrigued by the idea of water IN the covered pan, so next time I’ll try it that way. Thanks again!

  40. Karen

    I have to say I thought this recipe and process seemed a bit convoluted (the folding, stretching, karate chop and tossed water in the oven) but the bread turned out amazing. Not only the taste, but it looked incredible. Thank you for the dough hook mixer recipe. I have completely under utilized my expensive mixer; until now. It’s worth following the steps to the letter. The result is the kids poke their heads out of their bedrooms and out of their devices, and run down the steps to devour the bread. Thank you, Jaden!

  41. Melka

    Substituting all-purpose flour should be fine, since French bread does not normally have such a high protein flour as bread flour in it. I am certainly willing to sacrifice a little authenticity to crank out a good loaf in 3 hours. :)

  42. Diana

    I’m not skilled at bread–at all. I’ve made this twice, the first time didn’t work out because I accidentally skipped a step (or two), so it wasn’t as good as it could have been. But the second time I made it, it was amazing. I looked and tasted beautiful. Such an easy and wonderful recipe. Thank you so much!

    1. Post
  43. Adrienne

    I am so glad I found your instructions – especially the part about steaming the bread when it goes in the oven. I have an electric stove so I just threw in the water and shut the door. The crust turned out crispy and delicious. Also your photos of the folding and pinching were very helpful – I had begun my bread making adventure using instructions from another blog – which had no photo references.

    First time making bread at home, and I have to say that I don’t see myself buying store bought ever again. When I have time, I will definitely look around your site for more cooking inspiration and instructions.


  44. Maureen

    Wow, I just had my Pyrex loaf pan EXPLODE in th oven when I put the water in it. I sure wish I had read the comments of the others who had the same problem.

  45. BOLA

    Thanks so much for the recipe. I don’t have the pizza stone, what can l use to substitute the stone?

    1. Post
  46. Britani

    So in my excitement to make this bread, I missed the “rapid rise” part of the yeast ingredient. I used regular active dry yeast. I didn’t soak it in water or anything, just threw it in with the water and salt and flour and mixed. Didn’t even think about it until I was reading the comments here. What will this do to my bread? Does it need to rise longer?

    1. Post

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