The ingredients in a standard French bread recipe are almost identical to the ingredients in a basic white bread recipe. Unlike many other bread recipes, there is no fat, butter, sugar or milk added. One of the differences between French bread and white bread is how the bread is baked. Instead of baking the French bread in a bread pan, the dough is shaped into a narrow roll or bread round and baked on a cooking sheet. Moisture is added during the baking process. The end result is a soft white bread with a chewy crust.
The main ingredient in French bread is all-purpose flour. Yet, bread flour can also be used. Bread flour is sometimes more expensive than all-purpose flour, yet it has additional protein and bromate, which is an oxidising agent to strengthen the gluten. This helps the bread expand, producing a higher, lighter loaf.
Yeast and Water
Yeast is a type of fungus. It is used to make bread dough rise and expand. Before commercial yeast was processed in the late 1800s, bread makers would leave the dough uncovered so that the yeast in the air would land on the bread and help it rise. French bread recipes typically call for a package of dry active yeast. A half an ounce of active dry yeast is enough to make two loaves of bread (made with 7 or 8 cups of flour) rise. Before the yeast is added to the flour, it is dissolved in warm water. If yeast is old, past its expiration date, it may no longer be active and it will be unable to make the dough rise and expand.
Aside from flour, yeast and water, the final ingredient in French bread is table salt. A recipe that uses 7 or 8 cups of flour might call for 4 teaspoons of salt. According to an article on the Purdue University website, salt is not an essential ingredient when making bread, and too much salt can inhibit the yeast. Bread dough may actually rise faster without salt. Salt's purpose in bread making is to enhance the bread's flavour.