Last Thursday, I made 96 white bread rolls for a church event. Ninety-six. So, you might say I have this recipe down pretty well, and pretty well stuck in my head.
If you’re looking for a super easy bread that doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, and uses ones that you probably have on hand (flour, yeast, salt, and water), then this is the recipe for you! As usual, you can customize it with up to 50% of the flour replaced with wheat flour, infuse the dough with herbs, or top the bread with whatever seeds or other toppings your heart desires.
The dough comes together relatively quickly (including rise time), and bakes up quickly for dinner. I’ve used the recipe to make sandwich rolls (they’re pretty hefty, I must admit), loaves, and rolls, as pictured – the baking time and shaping just changes for each shape.
You can use a stand mixer to knead the dough, but if you’re making this dough in large quantities (or even small ones), I recommend getting your hands into it and kneading the dough yourself – you’ll get a better feel for the amount of flour you need, you won’t risk overloading your machine, and dang, it’s just satisfying to squish dough for 10-15 minutes. Get messy!
I’ll preface this with saying this is not fancy, aged, crusty sourdough baguette, so don’t expect that out of this recipe, but it’s still pretty darn tasty, especially for its simplicity (as much French food is). It’s still crispy, light, and delightful right out of the oven, and still makes great toast for days afterward.
Ready? Let’s bread!
Easy French Bread
You can reduce the first rise to 1 hour. A longer rise will result in more flavor development in the dough, but a short rise still produces great bread.
you will need:
- 3-4 c all-purpose flour (you may sub up to half of the flour with whole wheat)
- 1 ¾ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1 ½ c warm water or whey
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast in 1 ½ c warm water (not hot) and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add salt and 3 cups of the flour, and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
- If kneading by hand: Flour a clean work surface, and turn dough out onto flour. Knead the dough by pulling, pressing, and folding up to the remaining cup of flour (you may not need all of it – I rarely do) until the dough is elastic (retains its shape after pressing) and is only slightly sticky, about 10-15 minutes. Add more flour if the dough is super sticky.
- If using a mixer: Mix using the hook attachment, and gradually add up to the remaining cup of flour until the dough is elastic and is only slightly sticky. (It’s better to have a little too much water in the dough than too much flour.) If your dough is too dry (as in, it doesn’t stick at all), add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is hydrated (slightly sticky) and elastic.
- Lightly grease a bowl, put dough into the bowl, turn to coat, cover with a tea towel, and allow to rest and rise in a warm place for as little as 1 hour and as much as 5 hours. (A longer rise will allow the dough to develop more flavor.) The dough should double or nearly double in size.
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F (465 for rolls). If using a baking stone, place stone on the middle rack, and allow to preheat for at least 30 minutes before baking. Place a cast iron skillet on the bottom rack or bottom of the oven.
- For a boule (large, round loaf): Punch down dough. Lightly knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface, and shape the dough into a ball. Pull the ends of the dough ball underneath the dough a few times until a smooth dough ball forms. Allow the dough to sit on a floured board, pizza peel, or towel, covered, for about 30-40 minutes to rest.
- For rolls: Punch down dough, and lightly knead it on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into the desired number of rolls (I got about 24 small ones), and shape each dough piece into a ball, tucking the ends until a smooth roll forms. Place rolls on a lightly floured board, peel, or towel, cover, and allow to rest for about 20 minutes.
- Using a lame (blade) or very sharp knife, slash the bread with one or two long cuts along the surface (no more than 1/4 inch deep): this allows for release of air during baking. If using a baking stone, transfer bread to the stone; otherwise, place rested bread onto a baking sheet and into the oven. Carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the cast iron skillet (it will steam madly, so be careful!), and close the oven door. For a boule, bake for 35-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. For rolls, bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is browned and the loaves sound hollow when tapped.
- Remove bread from oven, and allow to cool on wire racks. The bread is best enjoyed the same day, but still makes excellent toast for a few days afterwards, as well as a good candidate for strata. You can also freeze loaves the same day once completely cooled.