I love a good homemade batch of bread and french bread is no exception. This recipe was handed down to me from a good friend. I love it because it not only tastes good but it has a much faster rising time.
I begin by activating my yeast. To do this I combine 5 teaspoons of yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2.5 cups warm water. After a quick stir I allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes.
I then add the rest of my ingredients to my frothy yeast concoction. These include 1 tablespoon of melted butter or shortening, 3 cups of white flour, and 1 tablespoon of salt. I like to sprinkle the salt over the top of the flour so there is no concentrated salt in one area to inhibit yeast growth.
Next, I mix the dough with a dough hook adding 2-3 cups of flour as needed to get a nice dough. (One that is not sticky but not too heavy either.) Everyone's flour is a little bit different as well as the conditions in their area so it is hard to give an exact amount. For this batch, I added about 2.5 cups.
Then I left it covered in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes. About 70 degrees is a good starting temperature for rising. If it is a particularly cool morning, I will turn on my oven and place the dough on a baking sheet on the stove.
I start by separating the dough in half since this will make 2 loaves. This is an interesting recipe because it has you roll out the dough before rolling it into a loaf. This creates layers in the bread. After rolling it up, I pinch the edges together and fold over the ends. I then, place it seam side down on a greased baking sheet with corn meal or grits on it and place 5 diagonal cuts in the top of the bread. When I place these cuts in I cut down about halfway through the bread. Next, I make an egg wash with 1 egg and a small amount of water, maybe a tablespoon, and I cover the loaves with the wash. Now it needs an additional 30 minutes to rise. Consider preheating your oven to 375 at this point.
With the second rise done, I put an additional coat of egg wash on it and place the loaves in the oven at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes I do one more coat of egg wash and again place it in the oven for the final cooking. This takes 10 minutes or so. I just bake it until the top is nicely browned and the inside is not doughy.
The outside should be nice and crispy and the inside chewy and soft. Just perfect!