Home > Appetizers, Side Dishes, Vegetarian > The French Bread Connection

The French Bread Connection

I keep getting taunted by France. 

I studied French in high school and learned all about the country and its culture for four years.  During that time I was planning on going to Europe for a few weeks to visit some countries, France being one among those.  Well, then the Gulf War started and the trip was kaput.  As time went on, I became more fascinated with the country and the more I learned about food, it was like the mother ship was calling me home.  Several years ago, my brother and his family were living in England, a few hours outside of London, and I was lucky enough to cross the Atlantic for a visit.  It was a somewhat short trip, so going to France during that time was not very likely.   However, one night after a nice dinner in London, my brother joked with me that we could just take the underground train to Paris, and we could be there in less than two hours.  Two hours?  I come all this way and you are here telling me that Paris is a mere two hours away?   My mind raced to fantastic images of me arriving just before midnight, in the city of lights, with the whole city nightlife there at my reach.  I gleamed about staying up all night drinking real French wine, eating baguettes and talking with my brother, while being surrounded by others speaking the language that started this all.  But faster than the Eurostar train that could have taken me there, my reality came crashing back when my brother stated he did not have his passport with him.  The dream would have to wait.

A few years ago, my next brush with France came as a church-related bakery staffed by French nuns opened up in a local shopping mall.  I got excited to be able to proudly say “Je voudrais acheter un croissant au chocolat, s’il vous plaît” …I would like to buy a chocolate croissant, please.  But of course I had to say it very casually, like it was something I muttered everyday.  Her face lit up and the hundreds of wrinkles on her face all turned upward and she started talking to me in her native tongue…with the speed of that Eurostar train.  I had no clue of what she was saying at eighty miles an hour, I just kept saying, “oui, oui” and “de rien” (thank you) when she handed me that still warm flaky croissant.  Slightly embarassed, I left the bakery and thought I should brush up on my french before returning. 

I did return, not for the croissants, but for a french bread baguette, a needed component for catfish po’boys for dinner.  After many stops at local grocery stores and even some bakeries, I was amazed to find I could not find a decent baguette.  The nuns did make a great baguette, and lucky for me the word was the same in both languages, so I had an easier time.  But I did think to myself, I should try making these at home…after all, it’s just flour, water, yeast and salt?  After trying many recipes I have settled down with one from Mark Bittman in his cookbook. 

french bread baguette

French Bread
3-½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water
Odd item needed: a water spray bottle

Mix salt, yeast, water and half of flour in mixing bowl with paddle. Switch to dough hook and add remaining flour a quarter cup at a time. If dough is dry, add a little water a tablespoon at a time. Consistency should be a sort of “shaggy ball.”

Dump dough into a large, oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let sit in a warm place for 2 – 3 hours.

Sprinkle flour onto a flat surface and cut dough into 2  equal pieces and shape into a ball, french bread doughsprinkling with more flour if necessary. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. 

Spread a large piece of canvas or cotton onto the table and place the dough ball on there. Fold it in half once, then once more (the same direction both times). Pinch the seam together gently and roll into a baguette

Place the loaf seam side down and cover with a cloth. Let sit for 1.5 – 2 hours.

french bread loaves

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  When about ready to put the dough in the oven, spray oven with a few squirts of water in a spray bottle. 

Slide dough onto baking sheet (or baguette pan) and place this in the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes.

Two to three times while baking, open the oven and spray a few more times. This will give it a nice crisy crust. 


So I guess if this is the closest I can get to France for now, that works for me.  And now at least they can’t taunt me with their bread.

french bread and chicken soup

A baguette with some homemade chicken noodle soup

Tip of the Week: An easy clean up tip for removing gooey dough from the bowls…next time you buy oranges or lemons in mesh bags, save them and cut them into hand sized squares.  The rough mesh sticks to the dough and cleans the bowl nicely, and can be thrown away when done.

On deck: Catfish Po’Boys

  1. Jeannine
    October 5, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Karen, I have dough in the fridge for baguette baking today! I’m trying out the “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day” recipe. A friend of mine has been baking from it all summer (and sharing the results — yum). Over the weekend, I made cinnamon rolls — delicious! It’s a fun/easy way of baking bread. Here’s a link to the book’s website http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/ I’m really enjoying your blog.

  2. karenrocks
    October 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Jeannine, Thanks for the link – I might have to try that…I could eat bread every day! Thanks for reading.

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