I have made this a couple of times and always loved that I actually baked bread. I found the recipe from Lynda's Recipe Box. It is really good. It takes me a little longer for everything to rise but maybe that is because my house is cold. Also you can test your yeast before you start dumping everything in. Follow step 1 and add the sugar and salt and even oil of step 2 but than let your mixture sit for a few minutes. If it does not start to bubble even a little bit, your yeast is possible too old and won't do its job. I have had this happen when I buy yeast with every intention to make bread and than it sits at my house for months and months. So this can help you decide before you waste all that flour and time. I make this on a day that I have time. Today, I started everything in the morning - left the bread for errands. Punched it down, went visiting teaching - punched it down again and made the loafs and than left it again for the 3rd rising. Finally it is now baking. Hope it turns out as good as the first time.
CRUSTY FRENCH BREAD
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups very warm water
6 cups sifted all purpose flour-you may not use all of it
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt-Recipe calls for 3 tea.
2 tablespoons shortening-I sometimes use olive oil
cornmeal for dusting the pans
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cold water
1. Pour the very warm water in a large bowl. (The water should feel comfortably warm when dropped on your wrist). Sprinkle the yeast into the water. Stir until the yeast dissolves.
2. Stir in 3 cups of the flour, the sugar, shortening and salt; beat until smooth. Slowly beat in enough of the remaining 3 cups of flour to make a stiff dough. It will still be somewhat sticky in appearance.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead for about 5 minutes. I find this rather therapeutic! Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, using only as much of the remaining flour to keep dough from sticking. Like I said, you may not end up using all the flour.
4. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and turn to coat all over with the shortening. Or, brush very lightly with oil. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm place to rise. It should double in 45-60 minutes.
5. When dough has doubled, punch it down (deflate it), and cover and let it rise a second time, until doubled in size. This will take around 30 minutes.
6. Punch down the dough again and knead 1 minute on a lightly floured surface. cut the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into about a 12x9 inch rectangle. Roll up jelly roll fashion and pinch the seam together. Tuck the ends underneath. Grease baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.
7. Place the bread on the prepared baking sheets: cover and let rise until doubles again, about 30 minutes.
8. Make several evenly placed diagonal cuts on top of each loaf. Beat together the egg white and the 1 tablespoon of cold water: brush over each loaf of bread gently with a pastry brush.
9. Place a pan of hot water on bottom shelf of the oven. Place baking sheet with loaves on shelf above the water.
10. Bake in a hot 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from baking pans and cool on wire racks. Enjoy!
NOTE: If your baking sheet is very large you may be able to bake all three loaves on 1 sheet. But you don't want the loaves too close together. Since I made one round loaf, I baked it on a second baking pan.
Another NOTE: I usually freeze 1 or 2 loaves of this bread. Double wrap it in plastic wrap and then in foil or a heavy freezer bag. It will keep for a couple of weeks, maybe more.