The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

French bread: times and temps

petercook's picture
petercook

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.

bnom's picture
bnom

I made just the type of crust I believe you're seeking...unfortunately I didn't intend to and don't really know how I did it. I made the loaf (a yeasted white bread...proabably 65 percent hydration) while staying at our cabin and so I didn't have a formula, scales, or my usual ingredients/equipment.


That said, I think two things may have contributed to the light, crispy crust: 1) I baked the loaf in a cold covered cast iron dutch oven in a non-preheated oven then baked at 500, and 2) I used the flour that was there which I think is a lower protein content than I usually use...I think it was a Gold Medal All Purpose.


 


 

Occabeka's picture
Occabeka

Hi petercook,


A crisp crust means the sugar in the dough has been caramelised by high heat.


May we know for how long your dough has been fermented? Or was there any sugar in the formula?


Occa

Chausiubao's picture
Chausiubao

Try venting your oven during the last few minutes of the bake.


The idea behind a crispy crust is to bake the bread so that the center of the dough has been raised to a certain temperature, at this temperature the outside of the crust can't have been set for too long or you will continue making more and more crust (which is why steaming helps make a crispy crust, you prevent the skin from forming).


Even if you get a perfect crust right out of the oven, moisture from within your dough will migrate to the crust and soften it. So you need to cook out that moisture and get it out of the oven. So when I bake baguettes I bake it for the last 5 minutes with the oven door slightly open.


This may or may not solve your problems, but if you're not venting, you can give it a try.


--Chausiubao

amauer's picture
amauer

because French is the one thing I have not gotten right yet. Too dry, bad shaping, etc. Anyway, my breads seem to have a good crackly crust most of the time and I have not spend a lot of time trying to create the steam since I am new to this technique. I used a squirt gun right before going in the last time I had a great crust and I doubt it held for 9 minutes. I wonder if 5 minutes if more reasonable. The times I had a nice crust that went soft was when I used a pan in the bottom with 1 cup of water added. I haven't tried the venting, but probaly haven't created enough steam to count. I also have heard the cold oven with good results several times and haven't tried that yet. My very uneducated guess is less steam, as it may saturate it into the bread and seeps back out when done.

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello All,


In answer to Occa"s question, There is no sugar in the recipe. I use a very liquid sponge pre-ferment with a tiny amount of yeast which takes about 8 hrs to mature. I take 100 grams of the sponge and put it into the bowl of my mixer. To that I add: 350 gram bread flour, 20 gram of whole wheat flour, 200 gram of water and 1/8 tsp of instant dry yeast. Total is 65% hydration. I stir on low for 3 min. Cover and autolyse 20 min. I then add  1 and 3/4 tsp of salt and knead on #6 (kitchenaid) for 4 min. I now have a very slack dough which I place in a lightly oil bowl, cover and let rest 30 min. I now do the 1st of 2 French folds. Rest 20 min and do the 2nd F.F. Cover and let ferment until doubled (about another 2 hr). I cut, scale and shape all in one operation. I place the shaped loaves into a double baguette pan, put into my proofing bag and refridgerate over night (8-10 hr). In the morning I remove to a counter still bagged. As I live in the tropics my kitchen is quite warm (80 F; 27 C). Even still, because I use so little yeast it often takes 4 hours to 5 hours to final proof. When I think the loaves are ready I test by gently poking a floured finger into a loaf about 3/4 inch. I get  some "spring back" about 40%.  Then into the oven as described above.  I hope this answers any questions. If not I'll be happy to answer any further ones.  Thank you all for your comments and I'm looking forward to hearing your replies.

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello All,


In answer to Occa"s question, There is no sugar in the recipe. I use a very liquid sponge pre-ferment with a tiny amount of yeast which takes about 8 hrs to mature. I take 100 grams of the sponge and put it into the bowl of my mixer. To that I add: 350 gram bread flour, 20 gram of whole wheat flour, 200 gram of water and 1/8 tsp of instant dry yeast. Total is 65% hydration. I stir on low for 3 min. Cover and autolyse 20 min. I then add  1 and 3/4 tsp of salt and knead on #6 (kitchenaid) for 4 min. I now have a very slack dough which I place in a lightly oil bowl, cover and let rest 30 min. I now do the 1st of 2 French folds. Rest 20 min and do the 2nd F.F. Cover and let ferment until doubled (about another 2 hr). I cut, scale and shape all in one operation. I place the shaped loaves into a double baguette pan, put into my proofing bag and refridgerate over night (8-10 hr). In the morning I remove to a counter still bagged. As I live in the tropics my kitchen is quite warm (80 F; 27 C). Even still, because I use so little yeast it often takes 4 hours to 5 hours to final proof. When I think the loaves are ready I test by gently poking a floured finger into a loaf about 3/4 inch. I get  some "spring back" about 40%.  Then into the oven as described above.  I hope this answers any questions. If not I'll be happy to answer any further ones.  Thank you all for your comments and I'm looking forward to hearing your replies.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I was with you as I read your post in your desire to make crispy crust like those great Hoagy (Po Boy) buns in New Orleans. I have worked on this bread also for a while with mixed success. When you mentioned you live in the Tropics, well now I just feel sorry for you. It seems like this is one of the cruel irony's of life. You can have paradise or you can have crisp bread crust. You have to decide which you really like because you can't' have both. The moisture in the interior crumb migrates outward as was explained above and the humid air in the environment turns your perfect crust into a thin tough skin after a few minutes. If you live in a super controlled environment with air conditioning, you can get by for a day but after that it's a battle with nature.


We have several great bakers in Hong Kong which is on the Equator. Perhaps one will comment. Good luck.


Eric

amauer's picture
amauer

The reason I may have had good luck is not my technique, but I live in Minnesota. VERY dry in the cold and cool spring weather. The first comment about the cabin i probably a northern area as well. It gets more humid in the summer, so we will see how I fare. I am happy for the useful information provided by PeterCook so that I can try his recipe and see if I can improve on my past attempts. One reason mine were dry is that I finally figured out because of the lack of humidity, my flour was very dry and the breads simply need more hydration. Environment really does seem a big factor.

bnom's picture
bnom

I don't think the Minnesota cold is having an impact...that shattery thin crust I made at our cabin (near Yellowstone) was in February.  Temp: 20 degrees, Elev: 6500 ft.  David mentioned low protein AP flour and I'm sure that had an impact.  Though I still think the non-preheated dutch oven had an impact because I've baked with the same cabin conditions before but always with a preheated oven/pan. It was only with the cold pan/oven that I got a paper thin, shattery crust.  If you test it out, let me know what happens.

petercook's picture
petercook

Note to Eric,


I have heard that theory before about the tropics but it is absolutely not true. The reason I am so possitive is that there are a number of bakeries here locally that produce very crisp crust on their French bread. Unfortunately, all of those loaves taste like cardboard, hence my need to create my own, that plus the love of the craft. There was one baker who produced a fine tasting loaf that also had a crisp crust but he passed on and took the secret to the grave with him.  P.S. Hong Kong is to the North of the Philippines and a long way from the Equator. When I was there last month it was quite cold at night and I froze my butt off.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I should start by saying I've never achieved as thin and crackly crust as I would like for baguettes myself. With that confession, i have some thoughts  that might help.


First, a lower-gluten flour will give you a more crackly, thinner crust. So, use AP flour for baguettes rather than bread flour.


Second, baguettes should bake in 20-25 minutes. Adjust your oven temperature to achieve this. As you've discovered a cooler, longer bake will result in a thicker crust.


Third, if your baguettes are 15" long and1" in diameter and are scaled to 330 gms, they must be pretty dense. I wonder if you are fully fermenting your dough. What's the crumb like? A baked baguette should feel very light for its size.


Hope this helps.


David

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello All,


In answering your questions: Ist, My loaves are not at all dense. They are light and airy with a wildly open crumb. I think maybe you were confusing my SHAPED loaf with my FINISHED loaf.


I have tried using A.P. flour and I did not get the proofed rise I want. The idea of using bread flour is that it has more protein that A.P. flour. More protein equals more gluten, which means a stronger structure, which in turn enables the baker to get a higher proofing rise and, of course a larger oven spring. I have been testing the limits of a proofing rise. I call it "testing to destruction". Because of the well developed gluten in my French loaves I have discovered that I can go far beyond conventional wisdom in proofing my shaped loaves. I proof beyond the finger poke test and I push the rising loaf until it "jiggles" when I tap on the baguette pan. And I also get a great "oven spring". Result: the lightest possible loaf.


One other thought here. Though some many disagree with me, the terms baguette and French bread are not inter-changable. Baguettes are smaller in diameter and more chewy. This is certainly true of the New Orleans French bread that I am trying to re-create. Yes, baguettes are A French bread but not the only French bread. Kind of like the idea, all lions are cats but not all cats are lions. One reason why New Orleans French bread is a bit taller and wider is so we can pile on lots of yummy goodies when making a "Po Boy" sandwich. My favorite is a Crispy deep fried shrimp Po Boy with ice cold lettuce, a honey-mustard-mayonaise sauce and, of course, a zippy cocktail sauce.  Oh heck, now I'm hungry again.


 

Occabeka's picture
Occabeka

Hi petercook,


After reading what the experts on the forum had to say, I can only conclude that for those of us living in the tropics that the only way to get the crust you desire will be to toast the slice you are about to eat.


But if you do get to achieve the crust you want, please let us know. I am curious.


Occa

petercook's picture
petercook

I'm sure that Eric was well meaning but when he said that it was not possible to get a crispy crust in the tropics, he was dead wrong. The professional bakers here make a French bread evey day and they always get a crispy crust. I just spent 1/2 hour talking with a  local bakery owner and he uses a professional gas fired oven that has a computorized steam injection system with fans. Certainly I am limited by my oven but I feel very strongly that there is no such thing as "impossible".

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello All,


I am beginning to have at least partial success obtaining a thin crisp crust for my French bread (not baguettes). I hit the target each time but never a bulls-eye.  When my loaves come out of the oven, after a good venting, they are quite hard. I then place them on a bread cooling rack and turn a fan on them. For about 20 minutes the crust is absolutely perfect (thin and brittle) but after that the crust begins to soften. My most recent attemps have been at a low starting temp 355-375 F. and baking for 30 min with a 10 min vent.


I have been testing different Starting temps and baking times (always with steam). Many, if not all, of the recipes and formulas that I have read begin with a temp of at least 425 F.  And that may work just fine for some ovens, but when I try those super hot temps I get a very brown crust before the interior moisture has had a chance to migrate to the surface and and they have been out of the oven for a few minutes the crust has softened like an Italian loaf from the supermarket. Does anyone have any ideas on this matter?

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello All,   I want to let you good folks know that I've had tremendous success in creating the loaf  I've wanted, including the paper-thin crisp crust. I finally achieved this by using the cold oven start with 300 ml of water directly on the oven floor (don't try this if you have an electric oven). After my loaves have proofed to the max, in a double baguette pan, I mist them but I don't slash them. I then load the oven, close the door and only then do I turn on the oven, set to 400 F . Very quickly the oven door steams up. At about 9 min into the bake the water has evaporated from the oven floor. At about 19 min into the bake I see the first hint of browning. (Because my oven heats unevenly, I now rotate the pan and loaves so the back is now in the front. If your oven bakes evenly you may not need to do this.) I continue baking for a TOTAL of 31-32 min. I now, crack open the oven door a few inches and turn the oven temp down to very low. This vents the oven and drys the crust to crispy perfection. I de-pan the loaves and place them UP-SIDE DOWN on a cooling rack with a fan blowing on them. This allows the steam to escape through the bottom crust and not the top. For those of you in the tropics, like me, you can definately make a great French bread in hot humid areas.

RandMan's picture
RandMan

I have found that when I bake my French bread (and I know exactly what you're talking about when you say that) and it ends up over-proofing a tad, I have the exact same problem as you. They will come out of the oven dark, crusty, shatteringly crisp top-to-bottom, side-to-side. After they sit on a rack for ten minutes, the whole crust begins to soften, and especially on the sides I will get extremely soft spots where you can literally push it in with your thumb. As far as I know, this has only happened when I've gotten busy at work and neglected them for a bit (shame on me) and they have proofed beyond my normal level. Here is my formula:


100% bread flour


50% pre-ferment (62% hydration with .5% instant yeast)


66% water


.5% yeast


2.9% salt


All percentages account for water and flour in the pre-ferment, so final dough ends up being 65% hydration and 2.2% salt.


Anyone else have this happen? I find under-proofing yields blowouts and slight over-proofing yields beautiful crumb but soft crust. Oh and yes, I do steam aggressively for the first 5 minutes at 500 degrees and then turn down to 450 for the remaining time, along with ten minutes of venting with the oven cracked open a few inches but still at 450.


-Randy

bpalmer's picture
bpalmer

How in the world are you guys able to shape loaves at 65% hydration? I cannot shape a loaf at 62% for anything! Also, I typically use a starter(50%/50% flour to water) for flavor and can relate to the overnight proofing times. Do you guys typically proof twice for French loaves? I too have been in search for the paper thin crispy crust and tried this baking method today in my electric oven but I didn't have much luck (but we will be enjoying some righteous bread pudding in a day or so). at any rate I would appreciate any help you experts could provide. This is what I do:

Heat 223g of water to 110 degrees Farienheight. Add 1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast and about 1 tablespoon of honey. Let this sit in the Kitchen Aid until the yeast gets happy with the honey then add a generous half cup (68g water, 68g bread flour) of starter (that I have fed within the last four hours - nice and frothy). I then add 400g of bread flour, and 20g of sea salt a little at a time to the mixer (fitted with the dough hook and on speed one or two). This eventually comes together and will clean the sides of the mixer bowl. This probably takes three or four minutes. Sometimes I kneed the dough a little at this point, but at 62%, that can be tricky. Eventually, I put this in a lightly oiled glass bowl for the first proofing.  Sometimes I let this go overnight in the fridge, it really just depends on what time I get started and what other things I am doing. After this first proofing I divide the dough into equal parts (using a scale) and do my best to shape these into loaves into a dual French loaf pan (the kind you get from William Sonoma with the holes in the bottom). This rises, both outwardly and upwardly until a poke doesn't bother returning at which point I bake it (which their really isn't any reason for me to go into this since it isn't right). 

I'm interested in any feedback you guys can supply on what I'm doing wrong especially with regards to double proofing, shaping at 65%, and baking temps/processes for folks with a standard electric oven (another problem is that my oven preheats using both the top and bottom elements which makes preheating after the loaf is in there tricky).