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

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Comments 335

  1. Dan

    There seems to be no “second rising” where the loaves are formed then covered etc.
    I dont see how at the end of Step 2 you would turn on your oven because you say later that you form the loaves and let them rest for 30 minutes. I am sure there’s something missing because my loaves were nowhere near the size in your pictures – and the first rising was 2x the original ball of dough.

    Anyhow I will be baking these shortly and I hope it wasn’t a waste.

  2. Cathy

    Fantastic recipe! I have had this recipe bookmarked for a while now and just finished eating the first hot, steaming slice of this bread. WOW! Excellent crisp crust, great flavor and texture…. awesome straight out of the oven. I bake bread once or twice a week and this French Loaf is a keeper! Only problem I found is that I had not tried it sooner!

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  4. Donna

    Love the BREAD! We just had dinner and with Fresh Bread, my family loved it.
    I did half in a dutch oven and the other half on a pizza stone. I was a little apprehensive about the water in the dutch oven and the stove bottom but it worked perfectly. The only thing I did different was I added a tablespoon of sugar. I did this because my family likes a little sugar in their bread and also I don’t always watch the clock on the rising times and sometimes let it go longer so I like the yeast to have a little extra to eat.
    Thank You so much for a great recipe, this will go in with my bread recipes.
    SO EASY!

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  6. Katie

    I just wanted to warn people… putting water into an oven can do damage to the oven and stoneware like pizza stones. The moisture from the steam cracks pizza stones all the time…. and I even heard one lady say the water warped her oven floor.

    1. Frank

      @ Katie -( I even heard one lady say the water warped her oven floor.) Well that actually works out well for me because the pan of water splashes nicely when it buckles from the heat/ice and makes lots of wonderful steam!
      Besides, who cooks on the bottom floor any ways?

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  9. Frank

    This recipe worked very well and mine turned out exactly as the picture above. I will bake another loaf with this recipe again but this time using a poolish that’s sat out over night for flavor. Thank you so much!

  10. MJ

    Well, this was my first attempt ever at baking bread, and it worked! Came out perfect. I was tickled to death. Easy (even w/hand-kneading) and fast. I used a pizza stone for the loaves and a cast-iron skillet for the steaming water. The bread is delicious. Thanks for the great recipe & post!

  11. meena

    i just stumbled into your blog.i liked this receipe ,can you tell me how to make abt the whole meal bread as i am keen on trying it .

  12. Chris

    this is an awesome recipe. I use something similar to this, but mine is from Anis Boubasa who is a french baker known for his baguette in paris.

    You can check his baguette recipe out at my site and a step by step instruction on how to bake the baguette.

    how to make baguette

  13. Bill

    Just wondered if the dough could be made in a Zojirushi home bakery and then completed in the oven.

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  15. kim

    instead of water. i throw a container of ice cubes on the bottom of the oven. less mess and a natural time release for steaming for the bread.

  16. Sammy G

    This bread was amazing! I made it to have with my dinner tonight and although I didnt make the cajun shrimp ( they sounded delicious and I will definitely try later this week) but i did have them with black mussels in a tomato broth. I was going to use your bread to sop up all the extra broth but the bread was so crunchy, fluffy, and just plain delicious that I ended up eating most of it before my mussels were ready, haha! Thanks again for the recipe, Cheers!

  17. Lynn

    Yummeee!!! I’ve been trying many new bread recipes and this was by far the best tasting and most authentic recipe for a French baguette. The family raved. Now, the next request was for a whole wheat baguette. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
    Thank you, thank you , thank you.

  18. Lynn

    One more question. Is there any point in the french Bread recipe that I could freeze the dough or is it better to bake it and then freeze the loaf?

    Thank you!

    1. SteamyKitchen

      You can shape the dough, let it rise, underbake the bread by 5 minutes, let cool, then freeze.

      When you want to eat, take loaf out and put directly into hot oven to finish baking.

  19. Martha

    Any tips on how to make the formed dough look as pretty as yours?? It comes out of the oven looking ok, but not as straight and pretty as I would like.

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  21. Michaela

    I’ve been making this recipe for about a year now. I’ve made some really phenomenal loaves with great crusty ears. I love how much detail you went into.. it gave me confidence to actually try a baguette!!

  22. Juma56

    I am an experienced bread baker, so I took some risks. I added garlic chopped fresh rosemary, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. It is rising now. Will let you know how it turns out.

  23. juma56

    Ooohhh yum yum, the smells are heavenly and the bread incredibly beautiful. So off I go to a Christmas party with fresh baked bread. Too cool for school.

  24. Rita

    tried it – loved it. The water tossed in the floor of the oven really gets the crispiness other recipes miss. Thanks for a great recipe.

  25. Cam

    I think I messed something up. I put the dough in the pre-heated Le Creuset, poured a half cup of water in, baked, uncovered, baked a bit more. Smelled delicious, but the bread glued itself to the bottom of the pot. I thought something like that might happen (floury dough + water = glue), but I’m still convinced I just did something wrong. Any ideas?

  26. Cam

    I was going by this line in the recipe:

    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.

    1. SteamyKitchen

      Oh sorry! I had my mind on another recipe (the No Knead Bread recipe that I have on my site)

      I don’t have trouble with the dough sticking – the water almost immediately evaporates and steams. Also try parchment paper under the dough to prevent any sticking at all.

  27. Cam

    Ah! Parchment paper is a fantastic idea. I’ve baked a grand total of 3 loaves now (3 of your AMAZING no-knead bread, and one of this french bread), so I’m still learning.

    Thank you so much!

  28. Jen

    “Carefully slide the gorgeous loaf into or onto your baking vessel.”

    What a joke! My loaf deflated. I literally heard the air Ssssssss out of it. So did my hopes for some yummy bread deflate. Bleh. I guess I’ll use parchment next time.

    I’m brand new to baking so I’m probably breaking a lot of rules that are assumed common sense that I just don’t have.

  29. Jen

    Yeah, I baked it. When my dough passed wind, it deflated by about 80%, and in the oven it rose back about 25%.

    I confess, I didn’t follow the recipe to a T. I replaced a small portion of the flour with whole wheat and a about a quarter cup with bean (garbanzo & fava) flour and I tossed in an unmeasured sprinkle of wheat gluten. I also included some caraway seeds. It was tasty, but a bit dense and tough (if those are the right words to describe it). It was more hearty-textured than I had hoped for but the crust was awesome!

    I’m really eager to learn about bread-making. I don’t understand what to look for when kneading. I feel like such a dough-dummy. I don’t know where to start learning.

    1. SteamyKitchen

      I suggest trying a recipe exactly – no changes. And then change ONE thing at a time and understand how it affects the finished bread. You’ve got so many variables, it’s hard to learn.

  30. Mark Winterhouse

    I was watching a great french film the other night about two people in airport that have their flights held up. There was one scene where they were eating this great looking loaf of french bread. My mouth was watering as I had this sudden urge to eat some french bread. So I’m determined to make some of my own french bread and this recipe looks good since it can be ready in 3 hours.

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  32. Eddie

    All my breads turn brown instead of golden brown can you help me out as to why this happens? I sometimes cover the loaves with liner paper and they come out lighter ……I use a baking pan but it is not inverted since it is very shallow anyway I cant see how this might make a difference and I bake on the middle rack or lower…………thank you in advance

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  35. Jill

    My son is 17 years old. He asked me to find a good French Bread recipe, so that he could try his hand as a baker. He made this by himself, and it turned out scrumptious. I was kinda jealous that I didn’t get in on the kneading action, so tonight, after he’s in bed, I’m making my own recipe–doubled, so that I can give some to friends. Thank you for the recipe and for the step-by-step instructions… this recipe made it into our family recipe box. So GOOD!

  36. Rod

    Thanks for the recipe and the detailed instructions.

    I made this bread yesterday – it turned out great and was gone in no time. Only thing I might change is to reduce the quantity of salt next time.

  37. Carol

    I’ve been a home bread maker for about 4 yrs. now. Family, friends, parties, you name it, my pride and joy was always my French Bread. Although my recipe was always the same, the results started to vary. Same flour, yeast, water temp. etc. Finally decided to try a new recipe.

    Have tried your recipe now on 3 occassions and it is excellent. A lot less muss and fuss than my original one. I prefer the single larger loaf and your recipe makes a huge loaf which my family loves.

    Great recipe and easy to follow instructions for those starting out in bread making. Kitchen Aid instructions are a nice touch also.Thanks so much.

  38. Addi

    Thanks so much for your recipe. I just blogged it on my own site. Make sure to check it out. Someday I wish to get my loaves just like yours!

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  40. Giacomo

    Your replacing of the white flour was too much for the dry yeast to overcome. Double the yeast and add 2 ounces of pure vegetable shortening or olive oil. This will give the dough he proper strength for fermentation.

    After you make your final loaf form for proofing the dough, dust the peel board with cornmeal. When done proofing, you slide it in the oven onto the cooking stone or your inverse pan. But the stone is the way to go. And don’t forget the steam. Lots of steam.

  41. Brooke

    Could I use a pan with water next to my pizza stone? I REALLY don’t want to crack my stone… what about using melted butter or something?

  42. Scott

    This was so good, but it came out wicked dense. The internal temp was what the recipe said. I baked on a stone for 20min, should I have left it in longer?

    So basically why does bread get dense, what did I do wrong?

  43. April

    This bread looks so good! Quick question, how do you measure your flour — scale, scoop & sweep, or spoon & sweep? Is the second rise only 30 minutes? Thanks, I can’t wait to make this!

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  45. docfen

    I am on the stage of letting the dough rise. Followed the recipe but was left with some more flour from the 1/4 was supposedly for reserve. Dough turned out satiny even before i could finish the flour. Oven is convection, do i need to set it with just normal setting (without the fan on). Does it make any difference?

  46. Ken

    I have made this recipe a few times and we love it however my loafs are a bit longer and narrower than they should be. Can you tell me the approximate diminsions of the rectangle before you fold it.

    Thanks for this wonderful recipe.

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  48. Matt

    To avoid the problem you discussed, I place a cookie sheet with water in it under my baking stone. I put it in during the pre-heat and while cooking.

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