As a child, my family lived as expats in Europe. A favorite memory of mine is visiting the local bakeries, where I saw loaves of baguette bread dotting the shelves. Most of the loaves were narrow and crispy on the outside with a soft, pillowy middle. When we moved back to the United States, I found a different type of the bread that we call “French” bread. This American version was larger, not as crispy and had a super soft middle. American-style French bread can be found in many grocery store bakeries and is not typically hard or crispy like a baguette. This soft French bread is light, airy, soft and downright delicious. We love it for a weeknight dinner and use leftovers for French toast in the morning. It’s also perfect to dip into fondue or to slice for the toaster.
Use Bread Flour for Soft French Bread
I never used to keep bread flour on hand, thinking that I could make all my baked goods from the cheaper all-purpose flour available on every grocery store shelf. This worked for a time, but as soon as I started using bread flour in bread, surprise, surprise…my bread turned out a whole lot better. Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. The protein content in flour affects the development of gluten strands. When making scones or waffles, you don’t want to develop gluten strands, so a low-protein flour (soft wheat) will produce the best baked good. When baking bread on the other hand, you want to develop gluten strands. These strands trap the air as the dough rises and gives the baked bread a light, fluffy, chewy texture. Can you use all-purpose flour in this recipe? You can. But starting with a good bread flour is setting you up for the best loaf of bread you can produce.
Coconut Oil: A Secret Ingredient
The key to a super soft, tender French bread that has a longer shelf-life? Coconut oil. I love using coconut oil in place of the neutral-flavored oil in this bread. It gives the softest interior texture, and we can’t taste any coconut flavor. If you are highly sensitive to coconut flavor, use 2 Tablespoons neutral-flavored oil and 2 Tablespoons coconut oil to get the closest result. Coconut oil should be melted and at room temperature before adding it to the bread. Make sure it is not too hot (you may have to heat the coconut oil to melt it a bit) so it doesn’t kill the yeast.
Kneading Soft French Bread
Soft French bread dough can be kneaded by hand, but I love making this bread in a Bosch Mixer. The Bosch has a very powerful motor, which means it can knead bread for a long, long time. Check out this NutriMill Artiste for a more affordable version of a Bosch. You can also use a KitchenAid, though it is not my go-to for dough kneading. If you use a KitchenAid be careful that you don’t burn out the motor while kneading (check that it’s not overheating). Once all the ingredients are mixed together, I like to set a timer and let this dough knead for about 8 minutes. Then let the dough rest for 15 minutes until it is slightly puffy and knead it back down for about 20 seconds. Do you have to add in this step? No, but I have made it both ways and this additional knead down/gluten-strengthening makes for an extra-chewy, light and springy crumb. At that point, cover the dough and let rise until doubled or even tripled in size.
Once the French bread dough has risen, turn it out onto a countertop. I like using one of these pastry mats on top of my kitchen counter. The measurements are so helpful. Divide the dough into two large portions. To make the loaves even, you can weigh them to help make them exactly the same size. Starting with one piece of dough, spread it out into a rectangle shape using your fingers. The shape should be a little smaller than the size of the baking sheet. Roll up the dough, pinching in the seams as you go. Pinch the dough closed and flip it over, seam-side down. Lightly push the ends under the dough if needed to give it a uniform shape. Place the shaped loaf on one side of the baking sheet. Repeat the shaping process with the other piece of dough and place on the other side of the baking sheet. Cover and let rise again until puffed up and just about doubled in size.
Score French Bread with a Bread Lame
I used to think bread lames were only for sourdough bread. Not true! A bread lame is a great tool to have in your kitchen to score the top of bread bowls, French bread and of course sourdough too. I love the UFO bread lame for scoring bread but this one from Amazon gets a lot of use too. My best tip for scoring bread: be quick, concise and have confidence!
So You Want a Crispy Crust?
Sometimes you want that crispy crust that you find in European bakeries. The best way to mimic that with this recipe is to throw a couple ice cubes into the pre-heated oven right before baking this bread. The ice cubes will melt, produce steam and give a nice crispy crust to your soft French bread. The crust will soften over time a bit but it’s a great way to get that crisp crust if you want it.
So what are you waiting for? This super soft French bread can be made start to finish in about 2.5 hours. My whole family loves it, especially right out of the oven when I top it with melted butter. Enjoy!
Looking for a sourdough version of Soft French Bread? You can find that here.
This bread is best with bread flour. You can substitute all purpose flour but won’t have quite the same spring and chew as you do with bread flour. Add a Tablespoon of vital wheat gluten to your all purpose flour to help mimic bread flour if you have it on hand.
You can use any neutral-flavored oil in this soft french bread. My personal preference is coconut oil followed by vegetable or canola oil.
Extra bread?! Ha! We do usually have some extra. I slice and freeze any extra bread we have. I’ll pull out the frozen bread, thaw it and use it for french toast, garlic bread or we make sandwiches from it too.
This recipe does double well to make 4 loaves of soft french bread. Give one to a friend. Freeze a couple for dinner or enjoy over a couple days. A double recipe works well in a Bosch Mixer. Doubling it may be a little too much for a KitchenAid.
Soft French Bread
- 2.5 cups warm water temperature of baby's bathwater
- 1 Tablespoons instant yeast
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 1/4 cup neutral flavored oil or coconut oil (see recipe notes)
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 5 1/2-6 cups bread flour see note
- Add the oil, salt and 5 cups of bread flour. Knead together and a little bit more flour as needed until you can pinch off a piece of dough and roll it up into a ball with only a little bit of sticky residue left on your fingers. The dough will probably need 5 1/2 to 6 cups of flour. Start on the lower end and work your way up so as not to over-flour the dough Knead in between additions of flour. If the dough needs more flour, add flour 1/4 cup at a time until slightly tacky. More tips for how to tell when dough is ready here.
- Once the flour has all been added and the dough is at the right consistency, knead with a dough hook for about 8 minutes. Set a timer and let the dough knead for the full eight minutes to achieve perfect elasticity and gluten development.
- After eight minutes of kneading, let the dough sit for 15 minutes in the mixer. It will expand and rise a bit. Stir down the dough after 15 minutes by kneading for 20 seconds.
- Transfer the dough to a dough container (affiliate link) and let the dough rise again for about an hour until doubled or tripled in size.
- Turn dough out onto the counter and cut into two pieces. With your fingers, press each piece into a rectangle shape (not quite as long as your baking sheet). Roll up, pinching in the seams as you go. Pinch the dough closed and place on one half of a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other portion of dough.
- Cover the shaped dough with a kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour until puffy and doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Using a bread lame or sharp knife, score the loaves.
- For a crispier crust: Throw a handful of ice cubes into the oven loaves putting the bread into the oven to bake. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
- Brush with melted butter and let cool before slicing and serving. Enjoy!
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