French bread: times and temps
I have been working on re-creating a New Orleans style French bread (not baguettes). I'm very, very close to what I want, but one last thing evades me--- the paper-thin, shatteringly crisp crust. I am now on test # 47 and I am getting a wildly open crumb which exactly what I want. The interior is ever so slightly moist, The crust is a deep golden brown. And it has a very nice depth of flavor. All of that is great. Question: Is it possible to get that paper thin CRISP crust at home? If so, how? In brief, my shaped loaves are 15" long and about as big around as a link of Italian sausage. Shaped loaf weight is 330 gram. The loaves go into a double baguette pan (the kind with hundreds of tiny holes), bagged tightly and retarded over night in the fridg. In the morning I put the shaped loaves (still bagged) on the counter to proof. Because I use such a small amount of yeast the proofing takes 4-5 hour. When I think the loaves are ready I poke a floured finger into one loaf and there is about a 50% spring back. I always bake the loaves using steam in the beginning. I put a heavy cast iron fry pan on the oven floor when I pre-heat for 45 min. I made a contraption that pours the water down into the super hot fry pan after the loaves are in the oven and the door is closed. The result is a lot of steam. All of that is what I do every single time. Ok, now, times and temps: I have tried every variation that I can think of; from a starting temp of 485 for 10 min, followed by a temp of 375 for another 20 min. I have tried a steady temp of 375 for 30 min and everything in between. Thinking that the amount of steam for a given amount of time might have an impact I have tested that. I am now using an amount of water that creates steam and then evaporates in about 9 min. I always get a nice oven-spring of about a 40% increase in height. I even adjusted the times and temps to bake for 45 min. As you might expect when I bake for longer times I get a progressively thicker crust (which I don't want). When I think the loaves are ready, I turn the oven off and crack open the door a few inches to dry the crust. When I pull the loaves out of the oven the internal temp is 205 F and the crust is perfect BUT 5 min later it begins to soften. 15 min later the crust is as soft as white bread from the store. I don't know if this is a clue but when I make small sandwich loaves, 110 gram, (using exactly the same formula and methods, I get a perfect little loaf that has exactly the crust I want, paper thin and crisp. Anyone who has any thoughts on this matter, I would appreciate hearing from you. P.S. I talked with the baker at a local market and even though his French bread tastes like cardboard he at least gets a perfect crust.