French Bread

Minnie Biggs’s French Bread is one she has adapted from a recipe for Poilane Peasant bread in Bernard Clayton’s Breads of France. Though it takes three days to complete, each step is simple to accomplish – and well worth it!


7 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast, dissolved in 1 cup warm (105 to 115 degrees F water)
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal, for dusting


Day 1. Starter: Beat together 1 cup flour and the dissolved yeast, mixed with the nonfat dry milk, and let stand, covered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

Day 2. Sponge: Add 2 cups warm water and 3 cups unbleached flour to the starter and mix well. Again cover and let stand 12 to 24 hours.

Day 3. Rising and Baking: Add salt, then 3 more cups of flour, or up to 1 more cup until kneading texture is elastic and easy. Knead well. Let rise, covered, in a very large bowl until the dough is completely doubled (about 3 hours). Then form into 3 fat or 4 thinner long loaves freehand. Let the formed bread rise until fully doubled – 2 hours at least. Bake the loaves on cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheets.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Have handy a mist-sprayer filled with cool fresh water. Slash the tops of the risen loaves and spray them gently. Open the oven, spray inside, and insert the bread. Spray the oven again 2 minutes later, 2 minutes after that, and 2 minutes after that, for a total of 4 sprayings in the first 6 minutes (that’s what gives the bread such a nice crust). Bake for a total of 37 minutes or until done by your favorite bread test. Cool on racks and enjoy promptly or freeze.

Cooking & Recipes


Makes 3 or 4 loaves.

Preparation Method

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