In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the water sugar and yeast. If using active dry yeast, let the mixture bubble and foam before proceeding (this can take 3-5 minutes). If using instant yeast, proceed with the recipe as there is no need to let the yeast activate.
Add the salt, oil and 1 1/2 cups of flour and mix. Add in 1 to 1 1/2 more cups of flour gradually. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl and form a soft ball that doesn't leave a lot of dough residue on your fingers. Knead for 2-3 minutes until the dough is smooth. If the dough starts to cling to the sides of the bowl, add 1/4 cup of flour at a time until a sturdy but soft ball of dough forms.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with a towel or greased plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour or so, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Turn the dough onto a lightly greased surface and pat into a thick rectangle, 9X13-inches or thereabouts (doesn't have to be exact). Roll the dough up starting from the long edge, pressing out any air bubbles or seams with the heel of your hand, and pinch the edge to seal. Arrange seam side down on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
If you have a very sharp knife or razor blade now is the time to slash diagonal cuts into the top of the bread so it looks like traditional French bread. If you don't have a very sharp knife or razor, wait to do the cuts until after the second rise.
Cover with greased plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and let the loaf rise until noticeably puffy and nearly doubled in size, about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and make sure an oven rack is in the center position. If you haven't already, with a very sharp knife or baker's lame cut several gashes at an angle on the top of each loaf.
Place the baking sheet in the hot oven and immediately toss 3-4 ice cubes on the bottom of the oven (this is how you get the classic French bread crispiness to the crust). Close the oven door quickly.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and baked through. Remove from the oven and slather with melted butter (optional, but highly recommended). Before you take the loaf out of the oven make sure the crust is thick and the loaf is fully baked. If you knock on the bottom of the bread it will sound hollow.