crumb shot of soft french bread with whole loaf in the background

How to Make Super Soft French Bread at Home

This soft french bread recipe is so much easier than you think.  It tastes just like those big fluffy loaves that you get at the super market, only fresher and more delicious.  This bread is great for garlic bread, or tasty sub sandwiches. 

Soft Garlic Bread Full Loaf from above

Homemade soft french bread took me 2 weeks and 39 recipe tests (give or take) to get it just right.

Seriously, my floor had an almost permanent layer of flour dust, and my husband actually got sick of bread. As if that’s even possible.

My daughter didn’t stop loving every minute though.

Little girl eating homemade soft french bread

Anywho. You’d think after all of that this recipe would be super complicated, right!?

Nope.

I’ve talked in the past about my tendency to over-complicate things (see my easy classic lasagna recipe to read more about it).  Anyway, when something tastes REALLY good, I think it must be incredibly difficult.  It turns out, the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I discover that cooking usually is SIMPLE and simplicity tastes oh so good.

Super Soft French Bread

Soft french bread loaf uncut on cutting board

So, how do you achieve super soft on the inside, lightly crunchy on the outside, fluffy, airy, delicious, french bread at home!? Let me tell you.

What kind of flour should I use to make soft french bread?

I spent a lot of time researching this question and made attempts with lots of different combinations.  I tried bread flour, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and several combinations.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. First off, leave whole wheat flour out of your french bread. Gah. It pains me to say it.  I usually try to use at least 50% whole wheat flour in all of my bread products around here, but soft french bread is just no place for it.  It didn’t rise well, and made for super crumbly, dense bread. Not appetizing. I even tried all my wheat bread tricks like using dough conditioner and vital wheat gluten.  Didn’t really help.  Trust me on this one and make this a white bread splurge. It’s worth it.
  2. I spent a lot of time researching authentic french bread, and decided I should use bread flour.  Turns out the super soft french bread they have for 99 cents at the grocery store that I was trying to replicate is not super authentic. Weird. So while bread flour makes a fantastically chewy and wonderful loaf, it isn’t what I was going for with this recipe.
  3. All-Purpose Flour was exactly what I was looking for, which is great since most everyone has it on hand.

What makes french bread so soft?

Here’s another time when the authentic french bread makers let me down. An authentic french baguette usually only contains flour, water, yeast, and salt.  But again this yields a chewier more artisan-like crust.  I wanted soft almost sub sandwich kind of bread so I needed to stray from the norm.

I went back to my college food science days and thought I should add a smidge of sugar and oil to the dough.  Sugar in breadmaking, acts as food for the yeast, helping it to grow big and making for fluffier, yummier bread.  It also helps to condition and soften the dough a bit.  Oil in breadmaking also tenderizes the loaf.

How do I make the crust of my french bread crusty?

Soft french bread sliced on cutting board with knife

Much of the appeal of a delicious loaf of soft french bread comes from the juxtaposition of that crusty outside and super soft inside.  Opposites truly do attract in this case.  The crust development in this recipes comes from two things.

  1. Use of an egg wash.  I use an egg wash in almost all of my baking to help achieve a golden color and add a little crustiness to the outside.  The cool thing about an egg wash is that you could also top the bread with oats, sesame seeds, etc…if you wanted to change things up.
  2. Many commercial bakeries use steam to achieve a great crust on the loaf as well as help the loaf continue to rise in the oven to it’s fullest potential. To achieve this at home,I simply fill a sheet pan placed at the bottom of the oven with the hottest water that comes out of my tap.  It works fairly well in the absence of a steam oven.

Do I need any fancy equipment to make soft french bread at home?

crumb shot of soft french bread with whole loaf in the background

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This recipe is so simple, and I suspect that the dough could even be made by hand.  Having said that, kneading dough by hand is the bane of my existence so I have not tested my theory.  I use my bosch mixer which I love and swear by. Seriously, for bread making this thing totally rocks!  I have also used kitchen aid mixers in the past with success.

Other than that, this loaf is free-formed so you only need a sheet pan to bake it on.  A rolling pin is helpful when shaping the loaf, but not strictly necessary either.

One simple tool that is super helpful in making this bread is a razorblade or a *clean* utility knife. It’s important to cut slits in the top of your bread when you put it in the oven so when it continues to rise as it bakes, the bread has somewhere to go.  If you don’t cut slits, the bread will split on it’s own haphazardly making for a pretty ugly loaf (albeit still tasty, I know from experience ;))  Try as I might to cut these slits with my kitchen knives, they just weren’t strong enough to get the job done.  A utility knife made perfect slits, and helped me achieve my prettiest loaf to date!

With this recipe, you’ll get it right on the first try and avoid the mess and extra carbs of recipe testing that I dealt with. Promise.

Looking for something delicious to make with your homemade french bread? Check out my tips for making the best garlic bread at home!

Super Soft French Bread

Super Soft French Bread

Yield: 16
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

This soft french bread is a homemade upgrade from those delicious loaves at the grocery store, it's so much easier to make than you think!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 C Warm Water
  • 1 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 5-6 C All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Egg White
  • 1 Tbsp Water
  • 1 Tbsp Cornmeal, as needed

Instructions

  1. Add warm water, sugar, and yeast to the bowl of a bosch mixer or kitchen aid with the dough attachment.  Make sure the water is warm/room temperature and not too hot to avoid killing the yeast. Let proof for about 10 minutes until bubbly.
  2. Add olive oil, salt, and 3 cups of flour.  Mix well.  Continue to add flour until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.  The dough should be soft and slightly sticky, but should hold it's shape. You may not use all of the flour called for.
  3. Once the dough has the correct amount of flour, continue to mix and knead for 5-7 minutes on medium speed. The dough should spring back when "poked" when it is finished kneading.  
  4. Place Dough in a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray.  Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until approximately doubled in size.  This usually takes ~45 minutes but will vary. 
  5. When dough has doubled in size, punch down and place on a lightly floured countertop. Split dough into two equal pieces.  To shape dough, roll out into a ~8x14 inch rectangle. Roll from each of the long ends toward the middle.  pinch the seam together at the middle.  Taper the ends of the dough and place on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, seam side down. Repeat with the second piece of dough.  There will be room to bake both loaves on the same cookie sheet if desired.
  6. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place again until double again.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  8. When the dough is ready to bake, use a very sharp knife or a razorblade /utility knife to make 4-5 diagonal slashes in the dough. 
  9. Whisk together egg white and 1 tbsp water.  Brush over loaves gently with a pastry brush.  If desired sprinkle with oats, sesame seeds, or other grains for visual appeal/texture.
  10. Place a half sheet pan at the bottom of your oven (if your oven has coils on the bottom place it on the bottom shelf as low as it will go.  Place the prepared loaves on the top shelf, and pour ~2 Cups of the hottest tap water you can into the empty sheet pan and quickly shut the oven door. 
  11. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown in color and baked through.

Notes

Adapted from the sister's cafe.  

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 32 Serving Size: g
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 98Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 185mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g

42 thoughts on “How to Make Super Soft French Bread at Home”

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    Your French bread looks wonderful Betty, I’ve also started to make my bread and I like to vary recipes, pinning it on my bread and bakery board for later! 🙂

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    Thank you for putting this recipe out there! It was easy to follow and fun to read. I just made it a few minutes ago, it looks amazing AND my house smells delicious!

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    Love this recipe! The only thing I do a little different is puts the slits in the dough before it rises the second time. Then you don’t have to worry about it falling or anything. Kids all live this bread!

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    I’m making this bread et praying it turns out as my great grandson love garlic bread! I used rapid rise yeast as that was all I had!

  5. Pingback: How to Make the Best Homemade Garlic Bread | Call Me Betty

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    What type of salt did you use? I used table salt and it was very salty. Wondering if I should have kosher salt instead.

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    This was such a good recipe! I’ve never made bread before so I was scared of ending up with a huge lump of half cooked dough. But oh my god this turned out soooo well. My father, who usually doesn’t give the tiniest bit of reaction to even the most fanciest of meals had actual tears in his eyes when he tasted the bread cause “it reminds me of my Europe days”. It was such a lovely experience in the midst of a time as grim as this.
    I did substitute around 1/6 th of the flour with whole wheat cause I was out of supplies. But I let it rise for a bit longer and it came out just fine.
    Thank you so much for this lovely recipe Amanda ^-^
    Stay safe and healthy!<3

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      Sasha, Thank you so much for your sweet comment and I’m so glad it turned out well for you!!! Bread can be intimidating at first, but it’s so fun! I’m glad the wheat flour worked out. You stay safe and healthy as well!

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    I followed this recipe to a T and it was absolutely amazing! I believe it tastes better than La Petite Frances Baguettes sold at Costco. I was able to yield 1 large loaf and 2 slightly smaller ones that were as long as my forearm (elbow to finger tips). I probably let it rise longer than needed, but this dough recipe is good enough to make in a bread pan and call it Country French Bread Loaf. Thank you for this recipe and sharing it with the world. This was sooooooooooooo soft and even with no bubbles in the middle. I appreciate you taking the time to explain everything and I will be back to try more recipes.

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    Thank you, doll, for this beautiful recipe!!! My family of 6 has been on quarantine for 4 weeks and we needed the joy of a house smelling of fresh bread and something good to eat. Bless you for this well thought out recipe with plain ingredients and technique. I’ve never made bread before and I followed your directions and it was a hit. All my gratitude!!

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      Hi Lillian,
      I’ve actually never saved one of the loaves for later. Honestly, I think I would just bake them both and store one in the freezer until I’m ready for it. I’m afraid it would over-rise in the fridge. Hope that helps!

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    I just did this recipe, tastes amazing! I dont have a mixer so I just kneaded it by hand, took about 15 minutes to get the dough to bounce back just right! Now I have to convince myself not to eat it all at once!

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    I’m pretty new to bread baking and this was a great simple recipe that ended with perfect bread! I used it for homemade Banh Mis and it was wonderfully soft. Anytime I want a soft French loaf, this will be my go to from now on!

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    I cook a lot and comment never. This bread is one of the best surprises for me in a long time. That is because I made the garlic bread you also reference in this recipe and I have never had my daughter say amazing to me as much as she did after I made it.A MUST try for anyone that makes this bread! Thanks Amanda…now to go make my Coco Lopez that I also discovered on your page!

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      Thanks so much, I love comments like this! …and yes the method on the bread is a little different making you think it won’t work, but it’s great!

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    I made this bread yesterday for Sunday lunch. It is truly the best French bread we’ve ever had so this will become a staple around here. I found it easy and quick to prepare as well. When I pulled it out of the oven it was so beautiful, picture perfect. You nailed it with this recipe ? Next week I’m going to make it and use your garlic butter recipe with it to make garlic bread. Can’t wait. I’ve never commented on any website ever but just had to for this. Thanks so much for all the hard work you put in to get to this end result!

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      Thanks for your question! This bread has a softer exterior than a lot of bread recipes (more similar to what you would buy at the grocery store vs like an artisan baguette you would buy at the bakery).

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    Wow. I’ve been baking bread for 5 years. I did all the fancy french bread recipes and nothing gave me that soft sandwich-style french bread. I followed the recipe exactly and it came out perfect. I ended up using just over 5 cups of flour (King Arthur All-Purpose) and baked it for 30 minutes. This is a fantasic recipe. Wife approved 🙂 Thank you so much.

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    Your recipe calls for 2 1/2 tsp salt and the recipe I have calls for 1 tbsp salt of which are the same thing. It it way too much salt, should it be 1 tsp instead???? The french loaf is very salty!!!!!!!!!

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      Sorry you had an experience with it being too salty for you! I actually decreased the salt from my original recipe from 1 Tbsp down to 2 1/2 Tbsp. I usually use Kosher salt, so that may make a difference, but I’ve never had a problem with it being too salty. Maybe try decreasing the salt down to 1 1/2 tsp or 2 tsp next time and it will be better for your preferences.

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    Wonderful recipe and so easy to follow! I’ve tried several other recipes, and have never had them turn out quite right until i tried yours, so thank you for sharing! Will be my go-to recipe for baguette from now on. Thank You!

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    Great bread recipe. To get a nice crunch for my crust I created a pouch with parchment and tin foil. Backed at 450 for 30 minutes then 15 minutes with the pouch open.

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