What is French Bread?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

French bread is bread made from white wheat flour that has a strong and chewy crust. The interior is full of bubbles, often due to the use of sourdough starters to prepare the bread, though not all French bread is sourdough. Usually, the loaf is shaped into a torpedo, batard, or baguette style. In France, the baguette form is standard, and bakers may prepare this type several times a day so people have access to fresh bread for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack.


There are now many bakers throughout the world who prepare some variant of French bread. Getting the crust to be crisp and chewy is generally the hardest part. This is especially the case if the bread must be wrapped in plastic, where it will quickly become soft instead of hard and chewy. In the US, shoppers are most likely to find it in the form of sourdough bread made by bakers in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. The bread should be bougt fresh, and it’s normally bagged in paper bags to retain that outer chewy texture that is so desirable. Though many associate the bread with San Francisco, the French style is not usually made with a sourdough starter in France.

A sandwich made with French bread.
A sandwich made with French bread.

This variety of bread doesn’t store well, and it will be hard within a day of purchase if it isn't wrapped in plastic. Some softness can be restored to the bread by heating it, so it is okay to buy it a day ahead if it will be warmed up. Some people may find even re-heated bread a little challenging to eat, and may be an acquired taste. Those who want to get that special crispy crust on French bread that has been packed in plastic will often also find that heating it up can help make it crispier. It won’t quite have the thick brown crust that diners are accustomed to in a more authentic version, but it can make for a good substitute.

French bread is made from white wheat flour.
French bread is made from white wheat flour.

As far as ingredients are concerned, French bread is very simple: it should contain only flour, yeast, water, and salt. Shoppers who see that the ingredient list contains things like vegetable oil or emulsifiers will generally be eating inferior bread. The simplicity of the ingredients makes this bread a good accompaniment to virtually any dish. Some Europeans enjoy their bread with slices of chocolate on it, or it can be dipped in sauces, spread with butter or mayonnaise, used for sandwiches, or just eaten plain and hot.

A bread with a bubbly interior is due to the use of a sourdough starter.
A bread with a bubbly interior is due to the use of a sourdough starter.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


dega2010 (post 5) your recipe is not French Bread and would be illegal to sell in France as "French Bread". True, real French bread does not contain oil, or egg, or milk. What you are making is an Italian bread in the shape of French Bread.


I like getting those half-baked French breads and baking it all the way through at home. So when it's time for dinner, it's fresh from the oven and piping hot which is just how I like it. I don't do anything fancy with it though. I just eat it with butter. French bread is so good, you really don't need to do anything additional.

When I have a craving for something sweet, I eat it with hazelnut cocoa spread. It's so good, just out of this world.


@donasmrs-- Why don't you just buy the mini sized French baguettes?

You'll definitely finish those in a day and they taste the same.


French bread is good but I don't buy it because I can never finish the whole thing in a day. And it's hard as rock by the next day. So I feel like I wasted my money.


@StarJo – That sounds yummy! I do toast my French bread, but I've never tried seasoning it before.

This is probably because I always use it to dip in either soup or some sort of meal with plenty of juices. Every time I make chicken creole, I have a lot of tomato flavored sauce rolling around on the plate, and the bread tastes amazing when I use it to sop up the juices.

French bread also tastes great when dipped in crawfish bisque. This wonderful seafood soup is so creamy, so it clings very well to the bread in big globs. The combination of bread and soup makes a very filling meal.

Sometimes, I make a meal just because it will give me an excuse to eat French bread! I really don't like eating plain toasted bread, but with the right juices, it can be addictive!


I like to toast French bread in baking pans. About seven minutes in a 400 degree oven is plenty, even if the bread has been frozen.

My husband and I have trouble eating an entire loaf of French bread before it goes bad, so we cut about half of it off and freeze the rest. In my experience, both frozen and fresh French bread taste the same after you butter them and place them in a hot oven for awhile.

After I butter the bread, I like to sprinkle it with seasoning salt and bake the flavor into it. This catapults the bread from tasty to irresistible!


My best friend used to buy a loaf of French bread to use for sandwiches. She stuffed the French bread with meat after slicing it open, but she never cut all the way through to the other side. She said that this was best for keeping the meat from falling out.


I have never actually made French bread dough. I am scared to work with yeast, because I have read that people who are prone to yeast infections could catch one by dealing with yeast while making bread.

I have always enjoyed eating French bread from restaurants, though. Many of them use it to make the toast that comes with an order of steak, and it's always delightfully soft in the middle yet crunchy on the outside.


I was hoping french bread was better for you than white bread. Looks like the ingredients are pretty much the same.


@grumpyguppy: This is the recipe that I use for French bread in a bread machine. You need the following ingredients:

1½ cup water, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 2 Tbsp. dry milk, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups bread flour, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. active dry yeast, and 1 egg white (whisked with 1 Tbsp. cold water to be brushed near end of baking).

Add the first 8 ingredients to the bread machine. Use the French bread setting of your machine, but remove the dough before it starts baking. Or, you can use the dough cycle and punch down to let the air escape and let it rise again (about 45 minutes), knead lightly, rise one more time, and form into loaves.

You will want to slice the baguette at a slight angle. About five minutes before your loaves are done, brush with the egg white and water mixture.


@grumpyguppy: You can make French bread in a bread machine but it might take a little longer.

Bread machines consist of a pan with a paddle in the center and a small oven with a control panel. Most of the machines have different cycles for different kinds of dough. Mine actually has a setting for “French”. Mine also has a timer which allows the bread machine to activate without my being there.

The ingredients are added into the bread pan in a specified order. I have made many loaves of delicious French bread in mine.


Can you make french bread in a bread machine or does it have to be baked in an oven?

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