French bread is so revered in France that laws have been passed as to the ingredients that each loaf, or stick, if you’re referring to a baguette, can be made with. Flour, yeast, salt and water are the only ingredients used in French bread. French bread contains no preservatives, which is evident when the stick you bring home in the morning becomes hard French bread by evening. Each loaf is made to last a maximum of 24 hours. You can revive and soften your French bread in one of several ways or pre-freeze half a loaf to save for a rainy day.
The Rules of French Bread
The French are different from you and me, and their rules for bread-making are not just rules; instead, they’re laws. Every one of your senses must be affected by that small stick of bread fresh from the boulangerie. The crust must crackle, and the holey insides must be soft and chewy. It is written.
Actually, it IS written in French law. French bread must be made on the premises in which they’re sold. They cannot have preservatives or additives other than the four legal ingredients. And they can’t be frozen. For a time, the price was fixed so that all French people could afford the national treasure.
Eating Bread the French Way
French bread is eaten with the hands. Put away the bread knife and just tear off a piece. Never mind the butter if you want to eat it like a true Frenchman, except if you’re in Normandy or Brittany, where the native salted butter is slabbed over a piece before it’s eaten.
Save the Paper Bag
Most French bread comes in a paper wrapper. That bag is vital when reheating the bread after it’s gone hard or is less than soft in the morning. Just heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, put the bread in the bag, and place it in the oven for a few minutes. You’ll soon have bread that’s refreshed and ready for dunking into your morning coffee.
Dousing Bread With Water
A stick, or baguette, that’s rock hard needs moisture. One of the main ingredients, water, has gone out of it, and you need to put it back. Place your stick under the sink faucet and let the water douse it on top, bottom and on both ends. Even if you’ve already sliced one of the ends, water it.
Wrap the bread in foil and put it into an unheated 300F oven. Turn on the heat and warm the bread for at least 15 minutes. Unwrap the bread from the foil and let it heat for another 5 minutes to crisp the crust. You’ll have to eat the bread immediately, or it’ll turn hard again.
The Point of No Return
If your bread is stale beyond recognition and the water trick just doesn’t do it, you have options. Take out your food processor, cut the bread into small chunks and make your own breadcrumbs. This is an especially good idea if you’ve smeared garlic butter all over your stick. Garlic-y breadcrumbs are ideal for breading chicken or eggplant. Or, if you prefer, make croutons.
French toast is ideal with stale bread. Just slice and let the slices soak in your egg mixture until they’ve sopped up all the egg they can. Then slowly saute the egg-soaked bread until it turns a golden brown.
Bread pudding is another good use of stale bread. Just dice the bread into 1-inch cubes and let them soak up the egg custard that’s part of the pudding recipe. The more the custard soaks into the bread, the richer the pudding will be.