Homemade French Bread

I haven’t blogged in almost 4 years. The reason why is sad, and enraging, and terrifying; medical malpractise rendered me permanently disabled. I can’t and won’t go into details here, but suffice to say that after multiple hip, spinal, pelvic, and abdominal surgeries, and a lot of metal screws drilled into my lower spine, plus literally hundreds (possibly thousands; I stopped counting over 3 year ago) of hours of PT, I can now barely hobble around my kitchen. Sometimes. And only for a few minutes at a time.

For someone who used to walk 3 miles every day without fail, this is a very hard reality. I haven’t even touched the chronic pain that this has caused, or the living hell I and my husband have been through and continue to go through. And for those who took pleasure in my injuries for petty reasons – and you know who you are – well, shame on you. Seriously. What I have been through is indescribable and you should feel bad for delighting in my physical agony.

Well. So. On to French bread.

I had been meaning to try making my own French bread before the hospital got its merciless hands on me, but obviously that didn’t pan out. I decided that since I can now spend about 10 minutes at a time hobbling around, hunched over, that I might as well try making it and anyway, screwing up a recipe is a really tiny thing to happen in life compared to other things.

The finished texture and flavour are SO YUMMY! I was blown away that I made this myself, at home. I’ve almost never had bread this good from a bakery. The interior is as tender and fluffy as you’d like, with the ideal amount of chew; it is mildly sweet and yet perfectly neutral, and pairs equally well with sweet and savory accompaniments. The exterior is a gorgeous, crisp, golden brown crust with plenty of flavour in itself – I found myself longing for more of the crust; it is so chewy and buttery! Forget French bread from restaurants and bakeries; this beats them all hollow, as Pa Ingalls would say.

I made a few minor changes to the recipe as it was written. I added buttermilk where there was none before. I highly recommend you at least try substituting around 1/4 cup of the total water with buttermilk warmed to 110°F, because it adds a pleasant sweet tang to the flavour. (The water should also be warmed to 110°F. The big deal about 110°F is that yeast love hanging out at that temperature! Go much higher and they die; go much lower and they just kind of hibernate. Either scenario is bad because it means your bread won’t rise.) Instead of using just all-purpose flour, I replaced slightly more than 1/7 of the flour volume with bread flour. I believe the bread flour added a nice bit of chew to the tender bread; using just all-purpose would of course result in a more tender texture. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use whatever glutenous flour you like! Just do some research into the general kneading requirements and liquid:flour ratios that your intended flour tends to like, and you can make all whole wheat French bread, or any flour mixture you care to try. Keep in mind that different flours have different levels of moisture as well as different levels of moisture absorption, and that some butters have more water than others. These factors will heavily impact the amount of liquid you will need to add, should you deviate from the recipe as written.

Don’t be intimidated – TRY THIS BREAD! This recipe is lovely, it really is. It is completed in stages so there is no elaborate prep time, merely 10-15 minutes here and there where you do this stage, wait for an hour or so, then do the next stage. Total active prep time is around 30 minutes; the rest of your time is spent waiting for the dough to double in size or for the loaves to bake. Bake them separately; they’ll turn out better that way. Keep a close eye on the texture of the bread and if the correct texture is reached before the suggested kneading time, then stop kneading. Conversely, if the correct texture is yet to be reached, keep kneading. Add more flour or liquid (I’d recommend adding buttermilk instead of water) as needed, in 1-2 TBS increments, and only knead as much as is required to blend the new addition in. Kneading develops gluten, which gives bread its texture, but too little or too much gluten makes bread just not taste right. Too much gluten makes bread tough, to which I say RAWR! The correct texture that you seek for this recipe is one that is not so sticky that it keeps sticking to your hands if you touch it; is smooth and elastic, and tends to stay in one ball or mass instead of breaking off into smaller pieces; and tends to slide off the dough hook without leaving any residue behind.

Adding ice cubes to a tray and placing that tray on the bottom of the oven while each loaf bakes (use fresh ice for the second loaf, since the first cubes will be gone after the first loaf is done) gives the bread that classic browned, crisp texture and makes it look and taste as though you bought it from a bakery. The ice cubes are also optional, but they make a HUGE difference and I do not recommend skipping them. I recommend brushing the loaves with melted butter immediately after taking them out of the oven. It isn’t necessary, but it really does make the bread taste better, even hours or days later. This recipe yields 2 loaves, so you may experiment and try adding butter to one loaf but not the other and see what the difference is.

My photography for this recipe is lacking in quality and I apologise for that. I also forgot to photograph the stages in which the dough is rolled and shaped, and then slashed with a razor. The original recipe, linked at the bottom of this post, has photographs of these stages, if you would prefer a visual guide. I noticed that my rolled loaves were much longer than hers were, and my bread still turned out beautifully.

Yield: Two ~14″ loaves


2 ¼ c. warm water (110°F) OR 2 c. warm water & ¼ c. warm buttermilk (both at 110°F)
2 TBS sugar
1 TBS instant or active dry yeast*
1 TBS salt (either regular table salt or fine sea salt)
2 TBS olive oil (can also use canola oil, vegetable oil, or avocado oil)
min. 781 g. (max. 852 g.) all-purpose flour (I used ~650 g. all-purpose flour & then added bread flour up to 783 g.; added all-purpose during kneading stage if/when dough was too wet)
scant 1/4 c. warm (110°-115°F) buttermilk or water if dough is too dry**
~3 TBS olive oil for oiling bowl & countertop
8-10 ice cubes, optional (the steaming ice gives the bread its classic crisp crust)
2 TBS melted butter (either salted or unsalted), for brushing loaves right out of the oven (optional, but adds tremendously to the flavour of the finished bread)

*If using instant yeast, there is no need to proof the yeast. After mixing the water, sugar, & yeast, proceed directly to adding the rest of the ingredients. If using active yeast, allow the yeast to sit in the water with the sugar until it bubbles and foams, about 3-5 minutes; then proceed with the recipe as written.

**I used the buttermilk because my dough was a bit too dry, but I think I will substitute 1/4 cup of warm water for warm buttermilk next time; it gives the bread a certain tangy sweetness that is otherwise absent.


IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN ELECTRIC MIXER: Mix with a spatula until dough thickens to the point that a spatula is ineffective; at this point, knead with your hands. This recipe is pretty forgiving. You will need to knead for roughly twice as long as the recipe states if you knead by hand.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook attachment, combine water, sugar, and yeast. Use a spatula to make sure ingredients are well-mixed. (Even though I was using instant yeast, I allowed it to sit for several minutes as though it were active yeast; I believe this contributes to a lighter texture.) Add salt, 2 TBS olive oil, and approx. half of the flour. Mix with hook on med-low speed until flour is incorporated.

Add the remaining flour gradually. This is important! I added the remaining flour in one fell swoop and I believe this necessitated adding more liquid because some of the flour just didn’t get incorporated properly.

Once all flour is added, continue kneading on med-low speed for roughly 3 minutes. The key is to look at the dough’s texture. Once it has formed a smooth, elastic dough that is not sticky, stop kneading. If dough is too wet or too dry, add liquid or all-purpose flour as needed, around 1-2 TBS at a time, to get the right texture. Knead only as much as is necessary to incorporate these additions.


Transfer dough to oiled bowl and gently move dough around so that dough ball itself is oiled; cover with either a clean towel or cling film. Allow to rise in a warm spot in the kitchen for around 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size. Keep in mind that this recipe makes 2 loaves of bread, so you will need a large bowl to put the dough ball in!

Once dough has doubled in size, turn dough out onto flat oiled surface. Cut dough in half and pat each half into a 9×13″ rectangle. A rolling pin is not necessary; you can do this part with your hands. Rectangle does not have to have 90° corners, but it must approximate this shape and size as closely as possible. Roll dough into a log from the long edge, so that dough is shaped into a 13″ long log. Pinch bottom seams closed and ensure the seams are on the bottom; pinch in end seams and tuck them under as well.

Place each dough log onto a separate baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (You could technically fit both loaves onto a sheet, but they won’t bake as evenly and there will be less room for them to expand during baking.)

Use a razor blade or an EXTREMELY sharp kitchen knife to cut several diagonal slashes shallowly (1/16″ to 1/8″) into the top of each loaf. A sharp blade is important, because tearing the bread at this stage could result in its being retarded and unable to rise properly. For this reason, it is also best to cut the slashes now as opposed to just before baking; there is a higher chance of the bread’s deflating if slashed right before baking.

Cover each loaf with oiled cling film (or lightly brush each loaf with olive oil & then cover with cling film) and allow to rise until nearly doubled in size, approx. 1 hour or so.


Preheat oven to 375°F. (I baked my bread at 355°F, as my oven runs around 25°F too hot.) Make sure rack is in middle position. Bake one loaf at a time for 25-35 minutes on middle rack, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. When putting in a loaf to bake, also put in 4-5 ice cubes onto a flat tray and place tray with ice cubes on the bottom oven rack. This is optional, but will give the crust that classic crisp texture. I kept the bottom tray in for the second loaf & just tossed the ice cubes into it right before closing the oven door.

Brush loaves with melted butter right when they come out of the oven. This is optional, but contributes greatly to the flavour and texture. Allow to cool and store at room temperature.

Loaves can be eaten warm from the oven with butter, cream cheese, you name it! French bread is beautifully versatile.

Notes on bread-making: Use the given amounts of flour and liquid as a guideline, and always start with the minimum given amount of an ingredient. Various factors can and will affect how bread turns out. Humidity is usually mentioned, but humidity has a negligible effect at best on doughs and pastries. What matters more is the moisture level of both the flour(s) and butter you are using, and the capability of the flour for absorbing moisture: Some flours are naturally ‘drier’ than others and so require more liquid. It is vitally important to look at the bread’s texture and add more flour or liquid as needed instead of simply using the amounts given robotically. Sometimes bread is really temperamental and you wind up adding more flour, then liquid, then more flour again, as I did here. It will still turn out all right so long as you do not over-knead or under-knead the bread. This recipe is fantastic because it can withstand a little too much kneading and still come out beautifully, with a crisp crust and a tender inside.

Try to ensure your extra/additional liquid, if adding on account of too-dry dough, is warm; yeast can also be temperamental and they prefer liquids that are around 110°F. The proofing process consists of the yeast eating sugars and carbohydrates like drunken sailors on shore leave, and then excreting the gases and alcohols created by their digestion. The alcohols created by the yeast bake off very quickly because the yeast just don’t create much alcohol. There are more than 1,500 different yeasts out there, all of which create different levels of excretion and different flavour profiles. When you finally put the bread in to bake, you are killing the yeast. They sense the rising temperature and increase, ever so briefly, their frenzied activities; then they die, literally exploding into steam. How cool is that?! (I suspect their exploded bodies are what make the zillions of tiny divots in bread. It would make sense, right?) Who knew bread-making could be so Gothic? 🙂

Notes on flour: The original recipe calls for all-purpose flour, not bread flour. I wanted a tender bread with a slight amount of chew, so I added a small amount of bread flour (a little more than 1/7 of the total amount of flour) and I am very pleased with the texture that resulted. Using just all-purpose flour will yield an even more tender bread. Use whatever flour you have on hand, but be aware you will need to adjust flour and liquid amounts, along with kneading times, because different flour types have different properties (as discussed in the first paragraph under the heading “Notes on bread-making”). You will still achieve a beautiful bread! Just be sure to do a little reading about the type of flour you intend to use so that you know the right, or general, kneading times, absorption rates, dryness, and liquid:flour ratios beforehand. Even if you don’t find the exact information you are looking for, give it a go anyhow. People have been making bread for thousands of years. You can do this!!!

SOURCE: Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Oh My God Chicken


This is the best chicken dish I’ve ever made. No preamble, because its awesomeness needs none. I saw this dish in a Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and knew immediately I had to make it. The dish is actually called “Oh My God Chicken,” amusingly. It’s a delicate flavour dance of chicken-y chicken, tomatoes, cilantro, and the richness that multiple deglazings impart. White wine, green onions, and leeks add an additional richness and complexity of flavour. The secret ingredient? A pound of bacon. 🙂


The chicken is fricasseed, which is simpler than it sounds. You simply brown the chicken in a pan, using bacon fat in this case, and finish cooking the chicken in a sauce. The sauce here is made by deglazing the pan you used to brown the chicken and cooking a medley of vegetables therein, deglazing periodically to both prevent blackening and boost flavour compounds. The chicken is returned to this sauce to finish cooking, and then this selfsame sauce is poured over the dish at the end. Each serving of chicken is garnished with chopped bacon, cilantro, chopped tomato, and bits of green onion. I think sour cream would not be out of place here as well; but for my dairy allergies, I would have served this dish with sour cream!

Normally chicken isn’t on the short list of special dishes to serve fancy company, but this dish is an exception. They could serve this as the entrée at a black tie reception, and guests would be wowed. Yes, it’s that good. Happy fricasseeing! 😉

Oh My God Chicken

12 oz. bacon, chopped
8 – 12 garlic cloves, peeled
3 – 7 lbs. boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 onion, minced
1 – 3 leeks, finely chopped
1 – 4 zucchini, minced
1 red bell pepper, minced
1 orange bell pepper, minced
2 c. chicken broth (may need more, depending on how much chicken you’re using)
2 c. Chardonnay (or any dry white wine), plus more for deglazing
3 – 6 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 – 2 TBS lime or lemon juice

For the garnish:
2 tomatoes, diced
fresh cilantro
green onions, chopped

Cook bacon in 12 quart Dutch oven. Transfer bacon to plate, leaving fat in pot. Deglaze with Chardonnay if fond is looking too dark. Add garlic and cook until golden-brown, about 3 – 5 minutes. Transfer garlic to large bowl. Turn off heat underneath pot.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat fat in pot until just smoking. Cook chicken on medium-high heat in batches, browning both sides of each chicken piece until golden brown. Do not overcrowd pan. Transfer chicken to bowl with garlic as it completes browning.

Deglaze pot with Chardonnay, if needed, and add vegetables. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add chicken broth, wine, bay leaves, and thyme, scraping up fond from bottom of pot. Add chicken, garlic, and accumulated juices. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat and cover. Cook until chicken registers 175°F, about 20 minutes.

Transfer chicken to plates and tent loosely with foil. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, continue to cook sauce until it thickens slightly. Stir in lime or lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Drizzle each serving with sauce from the pot, discarding thyme sprigs and bay leaves as needed. Top with reserved bacon, tomatoes, cilantro, and green onions.

Source: Heavily adapted from America’s Test Kitchen: Best-Ever Lost Recipes (January 2018 issue)

Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)


The French have made cooking with wine into quite a thing: Cuisine in the US routinely uses wine for deglazing and general flavouring, for example. Yet the Belgians’ love affair with beer, a passion akin to that of the French for wine, hasn’t really caught on in America. Beer is used occasionally in barbecue and fondue, but the classic Belgian beef stew made with beer is surprisingly rare here in the States. You’d think that with all the Coors and Budweiser being quaffed, some of it would make its way into stews with unfailing regularity. Apparently quaffing beer straight up is preferable to coating beef with it.

Beef and ale go together like chocolate and peanut butter; one teases subtle flavour variations out of the other that otherwise would go unsung. The ale imparts a hearty richness that makes you feel as though you’re transported back in time; you and your dining companions, all swathed in fur, are sitting together at a stone table in the tapestry-adorned royal hall, as the fireplace burns against the wicked snowstorm raging outside. But it can’t reach you inside, not just because there are tapestries hanging on the masonry: This stew warms you from within. It’s fabulous.

I still love my balsamic beef short ribs more than any other beef recipe, but when one tires of balsamic vinegar – it happens to the most devoted of gourmands – this hearty, ale-infused stew is just the trick to put everything right again. 🙂 Best of all, it can be cooked in an Instant Pot! That’s what I did. I include instructions for both the traditional Dutch oven and the Instant Pot methods in the recipe below.


Use any ale you enjoy drinking straight out of the bottle. I’ve used blond ale here because it’s apparently traditional in Belgium for use in stews; it has a mild bitterness offset by a light sweetness. You can soar beyond mere tradition and figure out what, exactly, tickles your taste buds in just the way you like. 😉

Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)

5 lbs. chuck-eye roast (or 1″ thick beef blade steak), cut into 1″ cubes (don’t remove fat if using chuck-eye roast; if using blade steak, remove gristle running through the middle, but leave any remaining fat)
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing beef and onions
3 large onions, cut into 1/8ths
1 TBS tomato paste
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. beef broth, plus extra for cooking onions (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.)
24 oz. beer / ale (I used two 11.5 oz. bottles of blond Leffe)
8 sprigs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
3 – 4 TBS cider vinegar

If using Dutch oven, preheat oven to 300°F. If using Instant Pot, disregard. (The Instant Pot method for this recipe is for an 8 quart pot. It will probably fit into a 6 quart pot, but I haven’t tried this.)

Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil until just smoking in 5-quart Dutch oven for oven method; for Instant Pot method, use a large pan (12″ minimum is best). Brown beef in batches, transferring browned beef into a large bowl (you’ll want to keep the juices from this). If fond in pan becomes too dark, deglaze as needed with water, ale, red wine, or broth (or some combination thereof).

Deglaze pan once you are done browning beef, if needed. Add more olive oil and add onions; sprinkle generously with salt. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add enough beef broth to just cover onions (this will enable the onions to cook evenly) and cook until onions are softened, about 15 – 20 minutes.

When onions are softened, add garlic and cook about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. At this stage:

If using Dutch oven, add chicken and beef broths, scraping bottom of pan to deglaze. Add beer, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, and browned beef with juices. Cover Dutch oven with lid and place in oven. Bake until beef is fork tender, about 2 hours.

If using Instant Pot, pour chicken broth, beef broth, beer, and vinegar into Instant Pot. Add thyme and bay leaves. Add onion mixture and layer browned beef on top, making sure to pour any accumulated beef juices into the pot as well. Cover and seal lid. Set to ‘High Pressure’ on Manual mode, and cook for 40 minutes. Use Quick Release method. Serve.

Source: Heavily adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen (Brookline, MA, 2014). Instant Pot methodology my own creation.