For a long while Jan has not used sugar or shortening in her French bread; more recently she has omitted the salt as well. She finds she doesn’t miss it.
Mix yeast, ½ cup of the flour, and water together in a bowl to make a sponge, and set in a warm place for 2 hours or until the sponge is light and frothy. Using a food processor or large bowl, combine sponge with remaining ingredients, incorporating enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead by hand, or process, until smooth and satiny. Cover and let rise until doubled. Form into long loaves and place in greased oblong pans. Let rest for 5 minutes, then slash diagonally with a razor. Place in a cold oven set at 400 degrees F; bake for about 40 minutes.