Julia Child’s French Bread

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You can make a great crusty loaf of homemade French bread right in your kitchen. I adapted Julia Child’s classic recipe for modern kitchens to make an easy bread recipe perfect for bakers of all levels.  

Three small loaves of French bread in a basket with a blue and white napkin

As a lifelong fan of Julia Child, I’ve been making her fabulous French recipes for years. And her Homemade French Bread is one of my all-time favorites. I’m thrilled to share my adaptation of Julia’s recipe with you!

Julia Child’s Pain Français (French Bread) recipe was published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II in 1970. It became an instant classic, and like so many of Julia’s recipes, proved that the average home cook could make beautiful loaves of French Bread in her own kitchen. 

Update: I first wrote this post to celebrate Julia’s 100th birthday. Well, that was back in 2012, so to celebrate her 108th birthday, I’ve updated it with more helpful hints and troubleshooting tips so you can make homemade loaves that would make Julia proud. 

A small loaf of homemade French bread on a cutting board with a serrated knife

 If you’re a little uncertain of making French bread at home, there’s a great video of Julia making French bread. She shows you step by step how the dough should look and how you shape the dough to make a beautiful loaf.

How To Make French Bread At Home

It’s easier than you think to fill your kitchen with the mouthwatering scent of freshly baked French Bread.

If you want to have French bread for dinner, you need to start this recipe first thing in the morning. The recipe requires two long rises to develop a flavorful dough.

A collage of four pictures showing the ingredients for French bread and mixing the dough with a stand mixer and dough hook.

I simplified Julia’s original recipe to use a stand mixer. I rarely knead dough by hand because the mixer makes it so easy, but if you don’t have a mixer, you can mix the dough by hand. 

The dough itself is a simple combination of flour, water, salt and yeast. Start by mixing the dry ingredients together for just a few seconds in the stand mixer. Then, slowly stream in the water with the mixer running. 

Once a shaggy dough forms, switch to the dough hook attachment. The hook does a better job of kneading the dough than the paddle. Let the machine knead the dough for about 5 minutes on medium speed.

The dough is done kneading when it’s smooth, elastic and can be stretched easily, but it is still slightly sticky. See below for the telltale signs of a well-kneaded dough. 

A collage of pictures showing French bread dough before rising, after rising, and after kneading on a floured pastry mat

Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, grease the bowl with cooking spray, return the dough to the bowl, cover and let rise for 3 hours. The dough should increase by 3 ½ times.

Then gently remove the dough from the bowl and fold it over a couple of times to redistribute the gases. It should be light and pillowy soft.

A collage of pictures of the dough after the second rise, and the dough divided into three sections

Let it rise for a second time until it grows 2 to 3 times in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.

After the second rise, the dough is ready to be shaped before its final rise, before baking it in the oven. 

How to Shape and Score Homemade French Bread

Start by weighing your dough and dividing the total weight by the number of loaves you want to make. This French Bread recipe will make three small loaves. Or, if you don’t mind loaves that are the exact same size, just use a bench scraper to divide the dough into three pieces..

A collage of three pictures showing how to shape the French bread dough.

Shape the baguette by gently stretching one side of the dough on top and then fold the other side on top.

Make a well down the middle and stretch the sides together. Then use two hands to gently roll the dough back and forward to elongate the bread.  (If you have questions about shaping the loaves, Julie shows you how in this video.)

A collage of three pictures. Two showing the shaped loaves rising covered with plastic wrap and a pizza stone in the oven with broiler pan underneath

Then when your loaves are shaped, transfer them to a proofing cloth or parchment paper for the final rise.

Cover them with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let the loaves rise for the final time. They should nearly triple in volume over the course of 1½ to 2½ hours. 

While your loaves are rising, heat your baking stone in a hot oven at 450°F. Place a roasting pan on a rack beneath the baking stone or rack where you’ll bake your loaves.

A collage of three pictures the risen French bread dough on the pizza peel, and the slashed French bread dough with a lame

Before baking, score your loaves. You can use a lame, which is a fancy term for the blade that bread bakers use to score bread. A sharp knife or a straight razor will also work.

Quickly spritz the dough with water before transfering the shaped loaves to a baking stone with a peel. Alternative, if you’re not using a baking stone, simply slide the baking sheet with the shaped loves directly into the oven.

Transferring the dough to the pizza peel can be a delicate operation, so you can also rise your bread on parchment paper and put it on the pizza stone in the oven on the parchment paper. If you bake your bread on parchment paper, remember to remove the paper 10-15 minutes into baking.

Pour 1 cup of water into the roasting pan in the oven and quickly close the door to prevent much steam from escaping. 

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the dough is nicely brown on top. 

And here’s the hardest part: try to let the bread cool for a couple of hours before cutting it, if you can. If you cut the bread before it’s cool the inside of the bread can be a little gummy instead of light and airy.

Homemade French bread on a cutting board with a serrated knife and a wicker basket with two more loaves of French bread

Troubleshooting Homemade French Bread

How Do I Know When To Stop Kneading The Dough?

Whether you knead the dough in your stand mixer or by hand, there are a few tell-tale signs that your dough is done keading and ready to rise. First, the dough will be smooth and slightly sticky to the touch. It should have a lot of spring to it, which you can test by poking the dough with your index finger. The dough should pop back easily. 

You can also do a windowpane test to ensure your dough is ready. Pick up the dough and grab hold of two sides. Slowly pull the dough apart. The dough should not tear easily as you pull, but rather should form a “windowpane” in the center of opaque dough that you can nearly see through, but doesn’t rip apart. 

Why Isn’t My Dough Rising?

If your dough is not rising as you’d expect, the weather might be playing a role. Cold temperatures make dough rise more slowly, so try moving the dough to a warm place in your house. Often, just sticking it inside an oven that’s off is warmer than on your kitchen counter. 

How Do I Develop A Nice Brown Crust On My Homemade Bread?

Using the pizza stone and a tray of water underneath helps to simulate a bakers oven and will give you a beautiful crisp crust.

The addition of moisture in the oven helps develop a golden crisp crust. If you skipped spraying the loaf before or during the oven, or you didn’t add water to a pan, you won’t get the crust you’re looking for. As the water evaporates in the oven, it crisps up the outer layer of dough. 

A collage of pictures. 3 loaves of French bread on a cutting board with jam, unbaked French bread on a baking sheet

If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can still get gorgeous looking loaves, like the loaves pictures above, by baking your loaves on parchment paper on a baking sheet.

What Type of Yeast To Make French bread?

Both instant yeast and active dry yeast will work in this recipe.

As long as you are using yeast that’s not expired, there’s no need to activate the yeast, mix it with warm water, before adding it to the flour.

What Equipment Do I Need to Make Homemade French Bread?

You don’t need much special equipment to make a perfect loaf of homemade French Bread, though there are a few items I find especially useful. For example, I like to use my stand mixer to knead the dough, but you could certainly do it by hand. Of course, that’s how Julia did it. 

Other readers have made this recipe in a bread machine, which is another great way to make this recipe even simpler!

Julia calls for rising the loaves on linen, but you can use parchment paper. Plus, the parchment makes the loaves easy to move onto the baking stone.

A peel is an excellent tool to transfer your loaves to the oven. If you don’t have one, it’s best to do the final rise of the shaped loaves on the baking sheet you’ll use to bake them. That way, the entire pan goes straight into the oven to bake. 

spray bottle on a blue striped napkin

A spray bottle is also helpful to moisten the dough before it goes into the oven and while it cooks.

The number one tool I’d recommend for perfect French bread is a pizza stone. You can certainly make homemade bread without one (just use a baking sheet), but a hot stone helps ensure that the crust gets delightfully crisp and golden. It’s fantastic for other recipes too, especially pizza!

a basket of cut french bread

More Favorite Recipes from Julia Child

If you love Julia and her recipes as much as I do, you must try these other fantastic dishes: 

  • Boeuf Bourguignon is the epitome of French comfort food: tender beef in a dark, rich red wine sauce. We also adapted it for the pressure cooker for fast weeknight Boeuf Bourguignon
  • Croissants are the flaky, buttery pastry that I probably don’t need to convince you are divine. This is a wonderful project recipe to make with friends or kids. 
  • Chocolate Almond Cake, posted on Apron Strings, marries two of my favorite flavors, chocolate and almonds, into a moist, dense cake.  
  • Oven Roasted Plum & Almond Cakes from Passionate About Baking are adorable individual cakes with soft, jammy plums tucked inside.
  • Julia Child’s Eggplant Pizzas, posted on Kalyn’s Kitchen, are an easy, approachable and tasty Italian-inspired dinner that happens to be low-carb.  
  • Jarlsberg Cheese Souffle, posted on LaFuji Mama, is a true show-stopper. Cut it open and your guests will be “ooing” and “aahing” all dinner long. 

More Easy & Delicious Homemade Bread Recipes

If you caught the bug and can’t wait for your next loaf of home baked bread, join the club! Here’s what I’m baking up as soon as possible:

Thanks Julia for sharing your passion for cooking, your reminders to never apologize if something you bake is less than perfect, and to be fearless in the kitchen and in life.

Three small loaves of French bread in a basket with a blue and white napkin
Yield: 3 small loaves

Julia Child’s French Bread

Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant or active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (120º - 130º)

Instructions

  1. 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 for about 30 seconds.
  2. With the motor running on low, pour in the warm water. Continue mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Clean off beater and switch to the dough hook. Mix in the remaining cup of flour a little at a time, to make a soft dough, adding more or less flour as needed. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. The surface should be smooth and the dough will be soft and somewhat sticky.
  3. Turn the dough onto a kneading surface and let rest for 2 - 3 minutes while you wash and dry the bowl and spray it with non-stick spray.
  4. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and let it rise, covered, at room temperature (about 75º) until 3 1/2 times its original volume. This will probably take about 3 hours.
  5. Gently deflate the dough and return it to the bowl. Let the dough rise at room temperature until not quite tripled in volume, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the rising surface: rub flour into canvas or linen towel placed on a baking sheet. (You can use parchment paper.)
  7. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Fold each piece of dough in two, cover loosely, and let the pieces relax for 5 minutes.
  8. Shape the loaves and place them on the prepared towel or parchment. Cover the loaves loosely and let them rise at room temperature until almost triple in volume, about 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours.
  9. Preheat oven to 450º. Set up a "simulated baker's oven" by placing a baking stone on the center rack, with a metal broiler pan on the rack beneath, at least 4 inches away from the baking stone to prevent the stone from cracking.
  10. Transfer the risen loaves onto a peel.
  11. Slash the loaves.
  12. Spray the loaves with water. Slide the loaves into the oven onto the preheated stone and add a cup of hot water to the broiler tray.
  13. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. (If you used parchment paper you will want to remove it after about 10-15 minutes to crisp up the bottom crust. Spray the loaves with water three times at 3-minute intervals.
  14. Cool for 2 - 3 hours before cutting.

Notes

Here's a video of Julia making French Bread, including shaping baguettes.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 134Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 399mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 4g

Nutrition information is calculated by Nutritionix and may not always be accurate.

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A small loaf of homemade French bread on a cutting board with a serrated knife
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