So I just made a batch of Vanderslice Family French Bread, a 40 year plus tradition, and I thought it being spring, Passover, Easter and all, I’d finally get the recipe online. I gift this bread a lot and it’s my fallback potluck essential and I have to say I get LOTS of compliments on it. But when my father-in-law and mother-in-law made it, it was the best bread on the planet. Unfortunately, even though my father-in-law actually taught me the process step by step, I’ve never mastered the exact taste and texture of their loaves. I can come close enough, though.
French Bread (makes 4 loaves)
2 1/2 c warm water
1 Tbsp each: salt, yeast, sugar
5-6 cups all purpose, unbleached flour (though bread flour is even better)**
Combine water, yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cover loosely with a dishcloth and allow to proof for about five minutes or until the mix has a froth on top. Then, add the flour one cup at a time, mixing well, until stiff. (If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can add the flour 2 cups at a time.)
Turn onto a well-floured surface and knead the dough for ten minutes (again, if you have a mixer you can let it do a little more of the work and knead for 3-5 minutes). Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn to be sure the dough is covered with the oil, then cover and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. This will take a minimum of one hour, but bread dough is very flexible and will work with your schedule, so if you need to leave it for several hours, go right ahead. This is the beauty of bread.
Preheat your oven to 350. Turn the risen dough upon a well-floured surface and punch down to get rid of the air bubbles. Shape into a large cylinder. Divide the cylinder evenly into 4 dough balls. Shape each ball into a baguette about 8″-12″ long and 3-4″ wide. Place on a well-floured cookie sheet, two to a sheet (I use baguette pans like these since I’ve been doing it so long, but you can get away with cookie sheets). Slash the top of each baguette diagonally with a sharp knife, then brush with milk. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve hot and crusty with butter or pesto or enjoy plain.
(If you like how these turn out, double the recipe and make eight at a time, which is what I do. It’s just as easy to make eight as it is to make four.)
**Any brand of flour will do, but I’m partial to King Arthur.
Let me know if you have any questions and let me know how it turns out.