Rustic Crusty French Bread

Rustic Crusty French Bread

This rustic French bread is your winter soup’s favourite sidekick! It also happens to be great toasted and makes a killer (crispy!) grilled cheese sandwich.

When I made this rustic French bread recipe recently to accompany a lovely Provençal Style Vegetable Soup (shown in photos here), my daughter told me it was the best bread I’d ever made. Now bear in mind, I make a lot of bread. And she has eaten a lot of it. So that’s not to be taken lightly. Fact is, I bake far more bread than I would ever be able to share on this blog, but given her enthusiasm, I thought I might share this one.

This bread is no more work than a regular loaf of bread, except that you have to start it the night before you want to bake it. This “starter” dough is part of what gives this bread such great depth of flavour. The starter mixes up quickly and easily in a bowl and then is left to bubble away on the counter top overnight. I just do it before I go to bed. In the morning, it pretty much comes together like any other loaf of bread.

Cook’s Notes for Rustic Crusty French Bread

This bread is best if you use 1) unbleached bread flour 2) whole wheat flour and 3) rye flour per the recipe. That said, unbleached bread flour is sometimes difficult to find. My grocery stores don’t carry it. I have to get it in bulk at the Bulk Barn here in Canada. That’s also where I pick up small amounts of rye flour. If you can’t find unbleached bread flour, use unbleached all-purpose flour. The unbleached part is more important. If you don’t have or want to pick up whole wheat and/or rye flour, simply replace with equal amounts of your unbleached all-purpose or bread flour. The results won’t be exactly the same, but it will still be delicious.

*I always use instant yeast for my bread baking. Instant yeast doesn’t require proofing in liquid, but instead is added with the dry ingredients. If you only have active dry yeast, proof the yeast in some or all of the water for each dough component, before adding with the rest of the ingredients.

**Forming this dough into a ball is much easier said than done, as the dough is moist. Use a bit of flour on your hands and do the best you can. The “tighter” you can get the ball, the better, as this creates the surface tension needed for a good rise.

Adding boiling water to a hot pan and placing it in the oven at the same time as your bread, will create steam, which will help your bread create a great crust. You can skip it if you like, but your crust will not be as … crusty :).

Resist the urge to slice your bread while it is still hot. Doing so will result in a gummy loaf. Wait until it is almost cool before slicing.

Rustic French Bread Recipe

Rustic Crusty French Bread

Rustic Crusty French Bread

Course: Bread
Cuisine: American
Keyword: crusty bread recipe, french bread recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Energy: 70 kcal
Author: Jennifer
A delicious, hearty French style bread, with a great crust! Note that you'll need to prepare the Starter dough the night before (or 8 hours before) you want to bake your bread. This long-rising starter is what gives the bread great depth of flavour.


Starter Dough: (make 8-16 hours ahead of when you want to bake your bread - overnight works well!)

  • 1 cup room temperature water
  • 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. rye flour or if unavailable, add 2 more Tbsp. whole wheat or all-purpose flour

Final Dough:

  • All of the Starter Dough from above, then add ...
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour


  1. The night before, or up to 16 hours before you want to bake your bread, combine the Starter Dough ingredients in a medium sized bowl, by mixing well until all the flour is moistened. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand on your counter.
  2. When ready to start your final dough, stir the Starter Dough and add it to a large bowl of the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a kneading hook. Add the water, salt, sugar and instant yeast from the Dough ingredient list and mix to combine. Add 3 cups of the flour and mix until all of the flour is incorporated and moistened. Continue adding flour in 1/4 cup increments, until your dough is smooth and moist, but not sticky. Remove dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. Remove the dough to a floured surface and gently deflate with the palm of your hands. Form dough into a ball**. Place dough, seam side down, onto prepared baking sheet.
  5. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap that has been sprayed or brushed with cooking oil on the underside and let rise until dough has risen by 1/2 again. This can take anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on your kitchen temperature.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 475°. F. , with one oven rack in the middle of the oven and one rack one position below it. Place an empty cast-iron frying pan or other heavy, oven-safe baking pan in the oven while oven preheats. Boil some water to use in the next step.
  7. Remove the cast-iron frying pan and immediately pour in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. Place back in oven on rack one position below where your bread will bake. Place baking sheet with bread in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Without opening oven door, lower oven temperature to 425° F. and continue baking for an additional 15-20, or until well-browned and hollow sounding when tapped.
  8. Cool bread well before slicing, to avoid a gummy loaf. To keep the loaf crusty, simply store uncovered on your counter-top, with the cut-side placed down onto a cutting board.

Recipe Notes

Be sure to read the "Cook's Notes" in the original post, for more tips, options, substitutions and variations for this recipe!


Rustic French Bread Recipe


  • Will the starter keep longer if I put it in the fridge (say, make the starter the night before I bake the bread for dinner, around 22-24 hours?)

    • Hi Vivi, Yes, you could do a couple of things. Either refrigerate overnight to slow it down a bit, then put it back on the counter again in the morning until ready to bake at dinner. Or just leave it on the counter the whole time and cut the yeast back to maybe 1/4 tsp. to start.

  • Started the poolish (? isn’t that what it’s called?) last night a 6pm. Then hemmed and hawed til about 11 this morning about how to mix everything. Don’t have a paddle or a dough hook for my ancient stand mixer and rather than clean the food processor just decided to do it with a good ole wooden spoon.
    It is amazing, love the flavour. Along with the pan of water I also spritzed water into the oven 2 maybe 3 times. The crust was softer than probably you intended but for me it is perfect. I think next time I will heat the baking sheet as I preheat the oven and then slide the dough onto it with the parchment paper. I’m not a fan of whole wheat but this is perfect and so is the rye.

    Thanks – a whole lot of awesomeness.

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Gwen :) I’m not usually a fan of whole wheat either, but it and the rye add great depth to this bread.

  • When I saw this loaf in the photos with your soup, I wished I could bake a loaf that looks like that! Thank you so much for this recipe. I cannot wait to try it! I adore baking and bread, and try to lay off all week so I can have a delightful splurge on the weekend. I feel the need for one now! A beautiful loaf and the texture looks great – I just love baking bread! Thanks again.

  • Oh my goodness I love a freshly baked loaf of bread! This bread looks pretty wonderful. I definitely want to start baking my own bread because I feel it must be such a therapeutic as well as satisfying experience to make your own bread! Thats amazing that you bake a lot of bread! I would love to see more of your bread creations. Do you have a cookbook you use that you suggest to get me into bread baking?

    • Thanks Linda and I do find baking bread very therapeutic, for sure! I started out many years back baking along with Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”. It’s a great book to learn the ins and outs of bread baking, with everything from simple loaves to artisan style breads.

  • Me , crusty bread and soup go together in the winter like white on rice. And this rustic french bread is totally calling my name! I love baking bread, because I find it seriously therapeutic, so I can’t wait to add this bread to my list! And I am totally drooling over the thought of grilled cheese with this bread! Gah! Cheers, my dear!

  • The recipe calls for boiling water in the oven but in the notes section, you mention adding cold water or ice cubes. I’m confused.

    • Hi Jan. Sorry for the confusion. I have been experimenting with different “steam” methods and thought I had used ice cubes with this bread, but then remembered I used boiling water. So I changed it in the recipe, but forgot to change it in the notes. Fixed now :)

I love hearing from you, so if you have a question or something isn't quite clear, I'm happy to help. If you made this recipe, I'd love to know how you liked it ~ Jennifer

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