The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lesson Five: Ten Tips for Better French Bread

Lesson Five: Ten Tips for Better French Bread

I've been baking something along the lines of what Americans call French Bread (a simple bread containing flour, salt, yeast, and water baked directly on a hearth or baking stone) almost every weekend for over a year now. Sometimes I bake more than one batch a weekend.

Over these 50 or 60 batches of bread there has been consistent improvement in the quality of my breads. Certainly there have been failures but, without question, I've gotten a lot better. Compare the tightness of the crumb of the breads I baked in my early lessons with the openness of my recent loaves. Much closer to what French Bread is supposed to be.

Through trial-and-error, by reading a lot of good baking books, and through numerous discussions with folks on this site I've learned a number of things worth passing on to other folks who want to try making artisan bread at home. Most of these rules hold true whether you are trying to bake pain sur poolish, pain de campagne, Ciabatta, or a rustic bread by any other name. Keep these tips in mind and bake regularly and you'll be making top notch artisan breads (whatever you want to call them) in no time.

Without further ado, the list:

Ten Tips For Better French Bread

10. Use Good Ingredients

9. Use a Preferment

8. Autolyse

7. The Wetter, The Better

6. Folding & Shaping

5. Slow Rise

4. Scoring

3. Bake with High Heat

2. Use a Baking Stone

1. Steam the Oven

0. Practice!

On to Number 10: Use Good Ingredients.


TPinson's picture

I've looked EVERYWHERE and nobody has unglazed quarry tiles...and I'm in Chicago!  The closest thing I could find was Advertine or something like that at Home Depot, but it was very porous and seemed to have some sort of coating on it (not sure if it was lead based but better safe than sorry).  Where do you get these things?

tananaBrian's picture

I live in Fox, Alaska and do my shopping in nearby Fairbanks.  We're literally at the end of the tracks and OUR Home Depot does carry quarry tiles.  I'm betting that yours does too.  But they aren't in the tile department.  I think that's the key.  I can't remember which department they were in, but it wasn't the tile department.  You might want to try again and ask one (or three) of their friendly employees where they are.  You may have to describe them (6"x6", orange pottery) for them to figure it out ...not all are experts at all things in the store (true of any store.)

I'll be stopping buy to pick some up today and if I think of it, will report back here to tell where in the store they can be found.



Poobens's picture

As an alternative to my broken pizza stone, I found some firebrick that were half the thickness of normal ones, at a local brickyard. They are a bit porous, but hold heat quite well, and at about a buck a piece they work very nicely.

James1847's picture

I've got a couple of granite floor tiles - £2.45 (about 3-4 dollars) that hold an amazing amount of heat. I'd strongly recomend them as they are very effective and cheap to replace. Just use them shiney-side-down.

sourpuss's picture

I'm just starting out here but I also make ceramic pottery and you can go to a ceramic supply and purchase an actual kiln shelf.  They are anywhere from 30 to 90 dollars depending on size but they are three quarters of an inch or more thick. 

grantmasterflash's picture

I asked Home Depot after not finding them and they had them in the foyer in boxes. They said they don't always carry them. I covered both of my racks in my oven for $10 (or 50 cents for 6x6 tiles).



smasty's picture

Ask for "Saltillo" tiles--mexican tiles--at Home Depot.  I have 1 whole and 1/2 tile on a shelf in my oven.  They are super cheap and last! 

pampushka's picture

Just tried french bread for the first time . . . Thanks for all the great tips.  I was really pleased with my first try . . . I did not use any stone because I didn't have one, but I made round loaves on my ceramic pie pans.  I was unable to score the loaves once they had risen b/c they were too soft.  Next time I will score them B4 the final rising.  And I preheated my oven to 550 F, baked the loaves (with the pan of water underneath to create steam) for 5 minutes, reduces the heat to 450 F, removed the steam pan after 10 minutes, and the total baking time was about 30 minutes.  A little simplistic compared to the "experts," but I was very pleased with the results!  Thanks again.

Bake Skywalker's picture
Bake Skywalker

Hello all, this is my first post on here at TFL.  What a great community :)


I just wanted to comment on how difficult it was for me to find the right tile for my oven.  Finally after doing quite a lot of calling and looking around (in MI) I found exactly what I was looking for.

There is a company called Metropolitan Ceramics they carry the perfect Quarry Tile.  They do not deal directly to the public but a simple phone call will find you a distributer near you, I also confirmed that they are food safe but feel free to ask all the questions you want they are really friendly.  I went with the Mayflower Red as they are the cheapest and most natural im litteraly leaving after I type to pick up two boxes of tile, both for under $23 US.  Years of tile for $23, WOW!

My oven is about 16"x22" so what I am going to do is get a box of 8"x8" and a box of 4"x8".  This way I can use 4 8"x8"s and 2 4"x8"s to make one big 16"x20" shelf!  Perfect!  Also I am going to take one of my oven racks and weld some spring stops onto it so that my tiles dont move around.  Im going to start a blog and I will post pictures of the setup.

Happy Hunting Fellow Bakers!



Davrun's picture

When I remodeled my kitchen, I put in granite for the countertops.  The cut outs for the sink made perfect baking stones, albeit a little heavy.  I have been baking regularly on them for about 5 years.  If there is a granite source near you, you can probably buy a cut out piece inexpensively.

francohut's picture

I have broken 3 different brand baking stones and I contacted the manufacturer and they told me max temperature was 450 degrees fahrenheit.  I saw on a thread elsewhere that a fellow said he had good luck with a ceramic kiln shelf.  I went to the ceramic supply store here in Austin, TX and sure enough, they had them in round, square and rectangular. They also had varying thicknesses.  I bought a 16" square by 5/8" thick and it was twenty-odd dollars.   I have used steam and run the oven up to 550 without any issues.  I do get better results and I may go thicker, though 16" seems to be the limit on my LG electric oven.


thehomefoodcook's picture

I made some French bread following all of the above points...excellent result. I only used plain flour however. Would the texture of the bread be much better if I had used strong bread flour? This is something I always hear about...but does using different flour make that much of a difference?




Carol L Howell's picture
Carol L Howell

I was wondering what kind of stove/oven bread bakers find reliable ?  Do you use the regular bake feature, or convection ?  Bread making machines were all the rage, I too have one sitting on the pantry shelf, how useful are they with artisian breads ?  I'm needing low sodium alternatives in my eating plan, and we just love our breads.  Any ideas, or shortcuts ?

Thank you for your thoughts,  Carol in St George, UT