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I tried, quite literally, dozens of french bread recipes before I stumbled upon this one. It is amazing, just like the loaves you pick up at your local grocery store, only better!
In a large bowl combine warm water, salt, sugar, oil*, 3 cups flour, and yeast. Beat vigorously for 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the remaining flour and then leave the dough (spoon still in the bowl) for 10 minutes. Then beat down the dough.
Let it sit for ten more minutes and then beat down again. Repeat this process until you have beaten down the dough 5 times. This part of the recipe is not very forgiving. A few minutes here and there won’t mess it up but don’t leave your dough for longer than 15 minutes or it will change the final product.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead just enough to coat the dough in flour, making it easy to handle.
Split the dough in half and form each half into loaf. Lightly spray a cooking sheet with non-stick spray and, if desired, dust with cornmeal.
Place loaves on pan(s) — (I actually half the recipe when I make it because there is not enough room in my oven to bake both loaves at the same time. It is very important to not let this bread over-rise!) and let rise for 30 minutes.
With a very sharp knife make 3-5 slashes on the top of the loaves and brush the top and sides with the beaten egg.
Put in a preheated 400 degree oven immediately and cook for 20-30 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan immediately and cool on racks.