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French bread too pale - where am i going wrong?

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5thelement's picture
5thelement

French bread too pale - where am i going wrong?

Just registered on the forum in the hope that someone can point me in the right direction with my breadmaking.


In particular im having some problems with this french bread recipe - the recipe is about as simple as it gets (i've scaled it down for the small amounts im making)


My problem is that i can't get the crust to brown very much - even after 45 minutes in the oven they're quite pale and by this time the crust has gone really hard and thick - the inside of the bread is soft and tastes absolutely fine - but it's a struggle to slice it sometimes because of the crust being brick hard. Could this be an oven temperature problem, or a lack of sugar? or do i need to glaze this type of bread?


Here's what i'm doing to make this bread


Step 1


227g (1/2lb) Strong White Bread Flour


142ml (1/4pint) water


16g fresh yeast


I mix this together and knead briefly and leave it overnight to create the sponge.


Step 2


The following day i add


227g (1/2lb) Strong White Bread Flour


142ml (1/4pint) water


7g salt (dissolved in the water)


I then knead this throughly into the final dough and allow it to prove. I then knock it back, shape it and allow to roughly double in size before it goes into the oven.


I'm baking it in an oven at 425-450 on a stone which is preheated atleast 1 hour before baking.


I can push the oven to 500 degrees at the most if this would help?


Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated!


Thanks

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi,


It sounds like you are trying to get too much out of the later fermentation stages.


Either cut down on bulk time, or, on final proof time.


By way of explanation, what is happening is that all the sugars [from the starch in the flour] have been used up by the yeast.   The dough structure becomes incredibly weak, but also there are no sugars left to caramelise at the point when the Maillard Reactions should be kicking in during the latter stages of baking.


If you still want to prove the dough for this length of time try the following: cut down the yeast levels, or make your dough slightly cooler.


All good wishes


Andy

5thelement's picture
5thelement

So would i be better trying to cut down the initial stage to say 3 hours - rather than overnight and then finish it as usual?


What about leaving stage 1 the same, but at stage 2 after kneading - let it rest for a short period of time then shape/prove and bake?


What would you suggest? i suppose only giving the first stage a few hours rather than over 12 might help.


As for oven temperature - do you think i need to go higher? and is it common to start it high then reduce oven temp for the rest of the baking?


Thanks for the advice, it's greatly appreciated!


 

blockkevin's picture
blockkevin

I personally think the temperature you are using should work just fine. Provided there is enough sugar left over to create the maillard reaction. What many home bakers do is to preheat their ovens as hot as they will go befoe loading the breads then turn them down after the bread is loaded. This practice has more to do with creating oven spring then with browning. The browning of the bread doesn't begin for a few minutes after loading. If you are interested there is a great explination of the process that is hapening to the bread while in the oven, at the beginning of "The Bread Bakers Apprentice." A worthwile read for other reasons as well, if not for it's good expination on the steps of baking


Good luck


Kevin

blockkevin's picture
blockkevin

I agree with everythiing that ananda posted as well. I also think your formula has too much yeast. My calculations have it around 3.5% of flour weight. Most standard lean breads would have a yeast percentage of 2% or less.


 


Heres what I might try. Reduce the overall yeast to around 8-9g. Take 1-2g of that total, and put it in your sponge(preferment) Use the remainder when you mix your final dough.


 


Good Luck


Kevin


 


 


 


 

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Hi Kevin,


Thanks for the advice - i'm going to make another attempt of this today so i might try your suggestion and see how it turns out.


If i wanted to speed up the first stage to just a few hours - would you suggest using 50% of the yeast to begin with? (4/4.5g)


Thanks

ananda's picture
ananda

For fresh yeast, Kevin's suggestion of 2% in the overall formula is great.


Try 0.5% in the overnight, and the remaining 1.5% in the final dough.


You definitely have way too much fresh yeast at 16g.   Better to have 3g in the sponge and 12g in the final dough.   The quantity you are using is more appropriate to a straight dough with a relatively short bulk time


Best wishes


Andy

ananda's picture
ananda

3g maximum in the sponge


7g maximum in the final dough


Andy

blockkevin's picture
blockkevin

yes you can speed up the maturity of your preferment by adding more yeast to it, but your overalll product won't be quite as good. The longer your sponge preferments the more organic acids it will bring to the party, which greatly contribute to flavor, and keeping quality.


 


That being said if you want to bake your bread today, then by all means give it a shot.


enjoy


Kevin


 


 


 


 

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Thanks Kevin - i went ahead and tried it with 4g and i'll add the other 4g on the second stage - i did this before seeing Andys 3g max recomendation so i've noted that for future attempts!


Hopefully this test run will prove a bit more successful with regard to crust colour if not flavour.


If a dough of this size was split into 2 equal pieces, how long would it typically take to bake at 450? i think i've been leaving them in too long at 45 minutes+ (mainly because i was looking waiting crust colour which never seemed to happen!)


I'll report back when the bread is baked with a couple of comparison photos to the old bread - hopefully with a positive outcome!


Thanks


 

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi


I reckon you have just under 700g of dough here.


So if you had 2 x 350g pieces, they really should bake in less than 20 minutes, unless you want for something really crusty.


Best wishes


Andy

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Hi,


Not far off, im sure last night i ended up with 2 pieces @ 385g each


Thanks for the time estimate - gives me something to go by


Will have this test dough in the oven this evening so i'll report back!

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Well the bread is baked and it's been a big success


Achieved much nicer crust colouring this time, in the oven for around 25 minutes and i reckon i could have left them a touch longer. The bread feels alot nicer, crust is crisp but im still able to squeeze the bread - before it was like trying to squeeze a solid rock.


As for the dough, when proving it after shaping it, it rose significantly more than my previous attempts - i reckon i slightly overproved this time but the results still seem good.


Timeline for this bread was like this


Stage 1 - flour/water, 4g yeast - knead and leave covered in bowl (left for 3hr 30m)


Stage 2 - add flour/water, 4g yeast, 7g salt to stage 1 dough and kneaded well - left in covered bowl until doubled in size (1hr 45m)


Dough punched down, lightly kneeded and scaled into two pieces. Dough then rested for 10 minutes.


Shaped the dough and left it to prove (1hr 35m)


Baked for 25 minutes at 450.


Here's a couple of photos - you can see last nights attempt in the foreground of the first shot - alot paler than these!


The loaf with the mottled effect in the background was glazed in tiger paste (acquired from a supermarket bakery)


These are still cooling so i've not eaten any yet - but im sure they're going to taste great.


Thanks for the advice on these - i'll need to try an overnight sponge next time using this method, i can't wait to try it!




 


 


 


 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

You make no mention of steaming the oven.  Steam promotes color to the crust.  If you aren't steaming the oven, the search bar will help you to find a ton of posts describing the various techniques available. 

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi again,


It's definitely worth finding out about steam in the oven, as Lindy suggests.   But I don't think this is your problem here.


Spent dough is..spent, and no amount of steam will remedy that.


And it's spent, as Kevin says, because there is too much yeast.


I'd stick with overnight for your pre-ferment; reducing this will take away a lot of character and flavour from your bread.


Just learn to judge the progress of fermentation in the final stages.   If you think the dough needs to go in the oven, the chances are, it probably does.


Under-proved bread is a bit of a drag; heavily over-proved is pretty much a disaster, guaranteed.


Best wishes


Andy

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Regarding steam - im well aware about steaming the oven to promote colour/crispness but ive been reluctant to try as the bread has been coming out far harder/crunchier than i wanted anyway without adding to it.


I'll need to see how this revised yeast amount changes the baked bread and i'll be able to experiment with steam afterwards- i just dont want to add another variable at this stage.


Thanks for all the help and advice so far everyone - absolutely fantastic! i think i'll be spending a lot more time here, theres so much to read and take in!

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

One thing I noticed is that you're using 100% strong bread flour. I'm wondering-is this organic or bleached? Maybe try a mixture of organic, AP and strong bread flour. Going to all organic, not bleached flour might help the color and taste of the final product.


Also, besides decreasing the yeast significantly, perhaps add just a pinch of diastatic malt. This can really up the color and flavor.


I would steam too, even though you say it's too crusty.


Just my 2 cents. I don't do much white bread because I find it too bland but if I did I'd do these changes to make it taste and look better. I find 100% strong bread flour far too chewy. The one and only loaf I made with it was so chewy we couldn't stand it and I remember it being pretty pale as well.

Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Know matter what I did I could not get my baguettes or ciabatta to brown with or without steam. Longer baking times only left me with a hard thick crunchy rather than a crispy crust and still white in colour.


So I went back to my dear old departed mum's method for browing her scones. She brushed then using a pastry brush with milk. I use this method and I know it goes against the rules for baguette baking but I now get lovely brown crisp bagettes and ciabatta's. I also brush the tops of my sandwich pan loaves and buns that I make for my wife's work lunches.


I have used water in the same method and it works but the milk just gives that better appearance. TIP........slash your bread after brushing the milk on. It gives you a lovely visual affect when the cooking is done. Please let us all know how you go.


Just another idea for you to try,


GOOD LUCK...........Pete


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

You got lots of good suggestions. I'd amplify one of them.


As was said, baguettes should bake in 20-25 minutes (depending on size). Regard that as a constant. Assuming optimal fermentation and proofing and steaming, you can control your crust color by varying the baking temperature.


Personally, I prefer a rather bold bake. The darker, caramelized crust has more flavor of the sort I personally like. I bake baguettes at 460ºF, generally to achieve this. My baguettes are generally scaled to 250 gms to fit my stone best. If I were baking 380 gm baguettes, I think I'd choose about 450ºF to get a 22-25 minute bake.


See these, baked today, for an example: Gosselin-Bouabsa Hybrid Baguettes à la DonD They were baked at 460ºF for 20 minutes. They spent another 5 minutes in the turned off oven with the door ajar, but this did not change the crust color, only the crispness.


Now, these may be darker than you like. If I wanted a lighter crust, I would have baked at 440-450ºF, no cooler. (Note: In either case, I preheat my oven and stone to 500ºF to get better oven spring, then turn it down to the baking temperautre after loading the loaves. I steam for the first 10-12 minutes, then let the steam out of the oven, which helps the crust crisp up and darken.)


Welcome to TFL, and happy baking!


David

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi


Great looking bread, I'm really happy you've made the progress you were looking for.


Pete's suggestion of using milk will certainly give colouration.   This is because the sugars in milk [lactose] are not fermentable by yeast, so will caramelise in the oven.   However, if the loaf is over-proved, nothing will correct the internal structure of the dough, so the eat quality will remain poor.


As for David's advice on baguettes; this is thorough and worked out from a lot of practice, so I would urge you to take note of everything he's written, and check out the reference, as I'm just about to!


For me, I would adjust your method next time by cutting back on the yeast in the pre-ferment and looking for a longer fermentation time for that portion of the process.   I think this will give you an even better loaf.


Best wishes


Andy

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Thanks for the comments Andy - i'm delighted with the improvements in this bread - i've just cut into one and the crumb structure/eating quality has also improved, much softer and easier to eat. If anything this time the crust could have done with being a bit crisper! but it's far better like this than being brick hard and dried out - so in future i might try some steam to promote some crispness.


I'm going to make another batch of this today and use less yeast in the pre-ferment as you suggested to extend the fermentation time so hopefully i'll get some more flavour into it.


I've taken all the comments here on board and im excited to get making more.


I'm also making my first sourdough bread today so fingers crossed for that!

5thelement's picture
5thelement

Been on holiday for the past week and im back and ready to get baking again!


Can anyone suggest how much yeast i should use in the sponge if i wanted to let the pre-ferment sit for around 18 hours? ie i want to make it up before i go to bed and finish the dough when i get home from work the following day and bake it that evening.


I'm assuming a small amount of yeast like 1g and leave it in the fridge? are there any set formulas to go by?


Any suggestions would be appreciated.


Thanks