Old-fashioned Crusty French Bread Recipe

Recipe for Crusty French Bread
Source: American Cookery (April, 1920)

My grocery store has yeast! It’s the first time that I’ve seen it in months, and I knew exactly which recipe I wanted to make – a hundred-year-old recipe for Crusty French Bread. Several years ago I’d tried to make French Bread – and I’d been disappointed in the results – so I wondered if an old-time recipe might make a more authentic French Bread.

As part of the rising process, the hundred-year-old recipe called for putting the bread dough in lukewarm water, and then waiting for it to float. I had my doubts, but it was easy to do – and I was very pleased with the results.

The Crusty French Bread turned out wonderfully. It was crusty on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside. This recipe is a keeper, and I feel certain that I’ll make it again.

2 loaves of Crusty French Bread
Source: American Cookery (April, 1920)

Here’s the original recipe:

I had to use more water than the recipe called for when I made the dough by mixing water, yeast, and flour. The recipe called for 1/2 cup of water, but it was not enough to make the dough cling together.

And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Crusty French Bread

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 packet dry active yeast

1/2 – 3/4 cup lukewarm water + 1/2 cup lukewarm water + additional lukewarm water for use during the rising process (all the lukewarm water should be 110 – 115° F.)

2 cups flour + 1 1/2 – 2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

milk, melted butter, or a sugar and water mixture (to brush on the top of the loaves) (I used milk.)

Blend the yeast with a little water in a measuring cup, and when smooth, add additional lukewarm water to make 1/2 cup. Put 2 cups flour in a mixing bowl, add the water and yeast mixture, and stir to combine. If it is too dry to knead, add additional lukewarm water until it can be kneaded. (It should be dryer than for most bread doughs). Put the mixture on a prepared surface and knead to form a stiff dough (about 5 minutes). Form the dough into a ball, and score it a couple of times across the top with a knife.

In the meantime, fill a Dutch oven or other large pan 2/3 full with lukewarm water. Put the ball of dough in the water with the scored side up. If the water does not cover the dough add additional water. Cover, and let the sit in a warm place until the dough swells and floats on top of the water (about 15-20 minutes). Lift the ball out of the pan using a large skimmer.

In a mixing bowl, dissolve the salt in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water, then add the ball of dough. Add 1 1/2 cups flour. (If needed, add additional flour to make the dough the right consistency for kneading.) Put the dough on a prepared surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Put in a large bowl, cover with a cloth, and place in a warm spot that is free from drafts until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).

Divide dough into two equal parts, and shape into long narrow loaves. (I rolled each part into a rectangle approximately 9″ X 20″, then rolled starting from one of the long sides.) Place on a greased baking sheet. Score with light slanting strokes of a knife across the top of each loaf. Brush with milk, melted butter, or a mixture and water and sugar. Let rise until doubled (about 30 minutes).

In the meantime preheat oven to 400° F. Put the bread in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes or until lightly browned.


28 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Crusty French Bread Recipe

    1. I had similar thoughts when I made the recipe. The only time I’d previously put a bread dough in water is when making bagels – though the bagels are put in the water after they have completed rising, rather than at the beginning.

  1. Putting a ball of dough in water must be highly unusual. I know bagels have a water step, but this is bread! I’m going to remember this, but I doubt I’ll try it. Um! Water!!!

    1. Putting the dough in lukewarm water is an unusual process (at least by today’s standards), but it worked well; and I was pleased with how the bread turned out.

  2. Nice! I searched for yeast at the 3 grocery stores in my area. I called the 4th (the health food store) and they had it. When I got there, it was a 1 lb. bag. LOL I will have yeast forever. Now if I can just find flour.

  3. This recipe sounds wonderful, I can almost smell it baking now! I haven’t made bread in many years. When my children were small (and I was far busier or so it seems) I frequently made loaves of bread on Saturdays. It was so pleasant to knead the dough and then smell it bake. Hubby bought a bread machine after I quit making it, but I never cared for the bread it made. I left the machine for him when I moved out haha!

  4. I’ve not heard of this technique before but the end result sounds wonderful…love a crunchy crust, it is my favorite part of bread.

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