Flour, water, yeast and a little salt are all it takes to make a delicious loaf or 2 of crusty French bread. That and a spray bottle filled with water for misting the bread while it bakes. You can have this bread hot from the oven in a little over 2 hours, depending on how fast your bread raises.
If you have a baking stone, I would use it to bake the bread on. If not, use the back of a cookie sheet with parchment paper on it. This way you can easily slide the loaves onto the oven rack after 10 minutes of baking to insure that bread gets good and crusty on the bottom also. Baking stones are great to use with bread making and are fabulous for baking pizzas with.
I want to talk to you for a minute about the raise time on this bread. If you do it with the quick raise method like I gave directions for, you will have a decent loaf of French bread. If you make this ahead of time and do several raises on it the texture and taste of the bread will improve even more. You can also mix this up, cover it and put it in the refrigerator overnight and get it out at least an hour before you want to bake it to let it raise and then follow the baking directions you will have a fabulous loaf of French bread. The longer you let the bread ferment the flavor develops. Double the recipe and do half the quick way and refrigerate the other half and you will see exactly what I mean.
Crusty French Bread
Yield: 2 loaves
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 - 25 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours minimum
Tender white French bread with a crusty crust is made of just water, flour, salt and yeast. Freshly baked from the oven is a real treat!
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (120º - 130º)
In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer using the flat beater, combine the yeast, 2 1/2 cups flour and salt. Mix on low just to combine the ingredients.
Add the water mixing with the dough hook until the mixture comes together. Add a little more flour if necessary. Beat with the dough hook for almost 5 minutes until the surface of the dough becomes smooth and a little sticky.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces depending on the size loaves you wish to make. Shape into 2 long loaves. Put a piece of parchment on the back side of a large cookie sheet. Place the loaves on it not touching. Cover with a towel and let raise again until doubled.
Preheat oven to 450º. If you have a baking stone put it in the oven to heat. Slash the loaves 4 - 5 times with a razor blade or very sharp knife. Spray the loaves with water.
Slide the loaves into the oven onto the preheated stone. If you do not have one then leave them on the cookie sheet and slide them off of it after 10 minutes. Add 2 cups of hot water to a deep pan right before you put the bread into the oven.
Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Spray the loaves with water three times at 3-minute intervals.
Cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.