French bread is one of the easiest breads to bake, and almost anyone can make a pretty good loaf with just a little practice. Despite its healthy nature, this bread is also rather traditional because it uses just flour, water, and salt, as classic French breads do. I did add some vital wheat gluten because I wanted the bread to be airy and light, as good French bread should be.

Whole-Wheat French Bread [Vegan]

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups of durum whole-wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp vital wheat gluten (If you don’t have vital wheat gluten, use 3 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole-wheat flour and skip the gluten)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 2 cups of mildly warm water
  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
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Preparation

  1. Mix the yeast, 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of water in a large bowl. Let stand for a few minutes until the mixture becomes quite bubbly, about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Now add the vital wheat gluten, remaining flour, salt and remaining water. Mix to combine and then knead by hand about 10 minutes or in a stand mixer, on medium speed, about six minutes, until you have a very smooth, elastic and resilient dough.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning over once to coat the top with oil. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise at room temperature. (In winter, I’d leave it in a cold oven with the light on).
  4. After two hours, the dough would have more than doubled. Punch it down to remove all the gases in it, then divide it into two. Let the dough stand, covered with a kitchen towel, around 10 minutes before shaping.
  5. Take one ball of dough and punch it down with your fist to release all the gases and air. You will have a six-inch round when you’re done.
  6. Now, roll over more than half of the dough and, using your knuckles or the heel of your hand, press it down into the bottom.
  7. Repeat two more times, rolling the dough over each time, until you have a cylinder. Each time, press in the seams with your knuckles or the heel of your hand. If needed, at the end, pinch in the seam with your fingers to seal it. You will now have a cylinder with tapering ends, about six inches in length.
  8. Now using the palms of your hands and fingers and without applying any pressure, roll the dough until you have a roll about 12 inches in length. The roll should be even all over and taper off at the ends– apply a little pressure when you reach the ends to create the tapering shape.
  9. Repeat this with the other ball of dough.Place the two loaves on a baking sheet lightly greased with oil and sprinkled with cornmeal, at least four inches apart because they will expand and rise.
  10. Cover with a floured kitchen towel and set aside for an hour.
  11. With a very sharp knife or razor, and very quickly, make three long, diagonal cuts in the top of the bread. (I used a serrated steak knife as you can see in the picture, but if you’re not practiced at this, use a very sharp, thin razor blade because you don’t want to deflate the dough)
  12. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Five minutes before baking, spray about 1/2 cup water into the oven to create a steamy environment. (The water helps create a crusty loaf and also it creates a moist environment where the bread bakes slowly, creating more flavor).
  13. Place the bread in the oven and close the door. Five minutes later, spray more water into the oven.
  14. Bake about 30 minutes until the loaves are golden-brown. Lift up the loaf to check that it separates easily from the baking sheet.
  15. Let stand at least 15 minutes on a rack before cutting.
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