The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Newbie attempts French Bread

azaelia's picture

Newbie attempts French Bread

Yesterday was my first time attempting anything other than enriched sandwich breads, and I decided to just go ahead and try the French bread recipe from BBA. I made the pate fermentee the night before, and then took it out of the fridge to let it warm up for an hour.

I think, looking back, that the hydration could have been higher. I'm still learning what the different hydrations feel like, and I don't think this dough was wet enough. Also, I didn't heat up the oven for long enough, so the amount of steam generated from my cast iron skillet wasn't substantial, and I ended up with a rather hard, chewy crust that I singed because the center of the loaf wasn't quite there.

I probably overhandled the dough, didn't score it deep enough, or shaped it too tight, I ended up with a rather tight crumb...delicious and moist, but tight. I also got over excited and shaped the dough as soon as it had doubled, instead of punching it down and letting it rise again as per the instructions...I don't think that caused my crumb issues, but it might have contributed.

Also, I don't have a baking stone so I baked it on the back of a sheet pan.

Here are pictures of the loaf:



Would you say my diagnosis is hitting close to the mark, or am I way off?

LindyD's picture

Looks pretty good for a first attempt.  Are you using a scale to weigh your ingredients?  

ehanner's picture

The crumb structure is a little dense for  a French loaf. Lindy's question about weighing is a good one. You can work your way up in hydration and observe how the crumb opens up as you learn to handle increasingly wet doughs. My best French loaves are made at 75% hydration and it took some time for me to learn how to handle the dough.

Another thing is the crust looks like it might have been a little over proofed. You got a little oven spring but the dense nature of the crumb hindered the overall performance I think.

You asked for analysis so I'm giving you my considered opinion on how you can improve the loaf. Don't think for a moment I wouldn't be proud to put your loaf on the table. I'm pretty sure my first French Bread attempt didn't look that nice.


azaelia's picture

Linda: Thanks :-) I am weighing my ingredients, but I think I might be adding too much extra flour during kneading. Maybe next time I just won't add all the flour and use that for kneading.

Eric: Thank you for the kind words :-) I'll definitely try to up the hydration a bit next time, and pay closer attention to the rise. 

The great thing about bread baking is that even your failures still taste a million times better than any grocery store loaf :-)