The Fresh Loaf

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Crust

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Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Crust

Greetings


I have an electric oven and a convection gas oven.   How can I get a crust that crackles like hard rolls or bread made in a brick oven?   Steam pan doesn't do it.  Stones in the steam pan doesn't do it.   Hot water in the steam doesn't do it.  Cold water in the steam pan doesn't do it.  Spraying sides of oven doesn't do it.  Spraying the loaves with water doesn't do it. Leaving the loaves in oven while (shut off) and door cracked open doesn't do it in 15 min.   If it works, how long must one leave the loaves???    I can get that kind of crackly crust by leaving the loaf on the counter for a few days but who wants that! etc., etc., etc.  


I say no method works!  One must have a professioal oven or a hearth.


Any comments?

Franko's picture
Franko

If you could provide a recipe for the bread that you've made that didn't get the crust you wanted, myself or someone else might be able to help you. It's certainly do-able, as people on this forum prove just about every day.

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear Franko


Thank you for your reply.   The recipe I most often hope to provide crackle, is Peter Reinhart's French Bread.   I've made many of his recipes and don't expect the ciabatta to be crackly but each time I watch a cooking show and ciabatta is cut......it crackles and I cringe. 


Best Regards


+Father Raphael

Franko's picture
Franko

Father Raphael


A lot of that crackle your looking for has to do with the final proof and is probably the hardest part of the process to judge consistently. What you want to put into the oven is a loaf that has risen but not quite fully and still  has enough residual Co2 to give it it's 'oven spring'. Judging proof or final rise as it's called by many is one of those feel things that's hard to describe. You may have heard of the poke test where you poke the dough and watch to see if it springs back quickly or slowly. The slower it springs back the further along it is in it's final proof. What you're trying to feel is the surface tension of the risen dough. If it feels tight then it can generally take some more proofing time. It's one of those things that takes practice and even then you can get fooled from time to time. Next time you make a dough make enough for two and give one a longer than normal final rise than the other then feel the difference between the surface tension of the two doughs. This will give you a good idea of what to look for when trying to judge proof.


Try this as well as the other suggestions on this thread regarding longer and /or hotter (I favour hotter) bake times as well as the cooling uncovered on a rack suggestion. Keep the faith Father, it'll happen.


All the best,


Franko

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear Franko


Thank you again for taking time to write.   Although I have been baking for a few years, I started late in life.  I have almost exclusively followed Peter Reinhart's recipes but must admit that although I have seen the poke test, I didn't pay much attention.  As you say, 'the slower it springs back the further along it is in it's final proof'.  I will indeed test the difference between two loaves (I bake almost every day) until I get I feel for it but if springs back slowly, do I want to proof it longer?  In other words, it should spring back quickly, correct?   I have noticed that some French Bread loaves look more like the real thing than others.  In other words, the slashes spread wide and the edges of the cuts have crests.  Other loaves look like Wonderbread in the shape of a baguette.  As for cooling, I always cool the loaves on a rack, uncovered.


Best regards


+FR

Franko's picture
Franko

Father Raphael,


Sorry to take so long getting back to you.

If it comes back gradually or holds the indentation it's getting close to or at the optimum proof, so no, you don't want to proof it much longer, if at all. I wish I could tell you definitively exactly how it should be but it varies from one kind of dough to another . Still it's a good rule of thumb and if for no other reason than it gets you to feel the dough, which is important. Remembering the feel of a dough is one of the easiest ways to get consistent results assuming you've done your initial measuring accurately. When your bread result is good and you remember how it felt your ahead of the game next time you mix it.


You mentioned steam in your original post and I didn't touch on it when I first replied. Steam, particularly in a lean bread such as Ciabatta, Baguette, or French is important as it allows the skin of the dough to expand with the initial heat of the oven. I think steam is overdone a lot of times and is really only crucial during the first few minutes of the bake when the dough is springing. Too much steam leads to a tough crust rather than the crackly one you're after. Just give the oven 3-4 good sprays before putting the bread in and 3-4 more before you close the door and this will suffice. I should mention as well that it's a good idea to keep your dough just moist, not wet, when it's rising as this also allows the dough to expand more easily and keeps a skin from forming which will also have adverse effects on getting maximum oven spring.


Hope this helps.


All the best,


Franko

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear Franko


You brought me to attention and that I have been rushing.  During long fast periods where we abstain from meats, dairy and eggs (and often fish) we go through a lot of bread.  Subsequently, when I bake I am often in a hurry and a little less discerning but always unhappy with mediocre results.  Thank you, you have encouraged me to be more attentive, including how much steam I create.


Sincerely grateful


+FR


 


P.S. Does you name indicate that you are Italian?


 

Franko's picture
Franko

Dear Father Raphael,


While it's always possible to 'push' or speed up the rise by increasing the dough temperature, or % of yeast, yeast doughs are best when allowed to stick to their own agenda and parameters. You've got an interesting production problem here that I'm fairly confident can be solved . I'm not familiar with Reinharts French recipe. Does it include any fats or oils in it? I have a recipe for a French style loaf that has some veg. shortening in it that will produces a crusty loaf and takes about an hour to rise @ 70-72F. Another thing that could be tried is a recipe with a preferment of some kind.  Maybe you're already using one? White doughs that use a preferment are pretty lively and tend to rise quickly, so that might be a possibility to consider as well. Does it have to be a French, or just look like a French? Hamelman's recipe for Ciabatta makes a beautiful crusty loaf and there's no reason you couldn't shape it any way you want, and slash it like a French style loaf. Lots of possibilities Father.


As for being Italian...no not really, but I love fresh bread dipped in anchovy oil and a glass of Pinot Grigio while I'm sitting in our garden,.... so maybe a little bit?

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Do you mean this?



Baked in just a regular home (natural gas) nonconvection oven.   Steaming pan containing lava rock is below my stone.   Admittedly, it doesn't happen every time I bake, but it does happen.


I just need to pay more attention and document what I've done so I can try to figure out why the crust cracks.


Search through David Snyder's blog - he did some experimentation with his electric convection oven and did a nice write-up.

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear LindyD


Thank you for the reply.  I must say I was a little carried away (out of frustration for so many years, please forgive) and should not have included lava rock since it is the one thing I have not tried.  I am encouraged by your response and the photo.  I plan obtain lava rock for my cast iron pan asap!  I will also look for David Snyder's blog ad am anxious to obtain results similar to yours.  Again, thank you.


Sincerely,


+Father Raphael

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Hi Father Raphael,


Here's the link to David's thread on his "consistently crackly crust conundrum" (nice aliteration!).


Truthfully, I wasn't sure if you were after the sound of the crust singing as it cools, or the cracks in the crust.


As I noted, however, my results aren't at all consistent.  I must pay better attention!  :-)


 

Rick D's picture
Rick D

I bake in a cheap, small "cookie cutter" electric oven and steam with ice in a cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf.


I'm get great results with the crust every time.


I don't think your problem is the oven.

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear RickD


Thank you for writing.  Forgive me but what is a "cookie cutter" oven? Nevertheless, I must say I am excited to hear of consistent results and without a hearth oven.


Best regards


+Father Raphael

Rick D's picture
Rick D

Greetings Father,


it's a GE electric oven (probably something picked up at Sears, or the likes) that happened to be the resident oven when we bought the house. It's a basic electric oven with the heating element at the floor of the oven. no convection. I have to say, I'm a bit surprised at how well it performs, but I've heard that electric ovens do tend to distribute heat more evenly than do gas ovens.


Good luck!

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear RickD


Thank you for responding.  I am humbled and beginning to admit that since I have an electric oven, I am the obstacle to good bread more than it!


Sincerely


+FR

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Rapid cooling does help to get the cracks happening, bake well put onto a wire rack and allow to cool in an area that has a good air flow the old fashioned way to put it on the open window sill, still works wonders. Doughs that have some fat also tend to have a thinner crisp crust. Don't over do the steam though, only enough for the initial oven spring .


look forward to hearing future successes


regards Yozza 


 

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

I stopped steaming for a couple of months but once I returned, now that you mention it, I think I am oversteaming.  I use 1.5 cuprs initially and then 3 times as recommended by Reinhart.   I've noticed my slashes don't open as much as they used to.(?)


Thanks Yozza

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Hi Father


I hadn't realised that you actually use some of the bread for holy communion, thats really good to hear, what size congregation do you cater for?


Iwould say way to much water for steam, the ideal would be to have it all evaporated in 5 minutes a big flat tray  lots of surface area and little depth, a loaf still gives off a lot of moisture as it is cooling and if you want crackle then we need to make sure it gets away easily. hence covering with a towel slows that down and a softer crust.


We have a monestry here in western australia and they used to bake bread but i believe the New Norcia  name has been bought up nad the bread is baked in the city but no longer by the monks im sure if you google New Norcia you will find references to both the monestry and the current sour dough bread producers.


 

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Dear Yozzause


In case you are not familiar with ancient Christian traditions, the bread (see photo)


for Holy Communion is called Prosphora and made from 100% Organic Whole Wheat and contains water, flour, salt and yeast only.  After each individual Communes, pieces from another loaf (the same recipe but not blest in the same way) is given along with a sweet Communion wine to cleanse the mouth from the Holy Gifts.  Since Holy Communion is but  small particle, taste is rather meaningless but that which is taken with the wine is larger.  Subsequently, I did an overnight in the refrigerator and after Liturgy several individuals asked if I changed something with the bread.  When I asked why, they said it tasted better.  As for our size, we are but a small group.


From what you say, I have been using too much water.  When I think back to having used less, my French bread did indeed look at little more like the real thing.  Thank you for references it.  I am anxious to bake tomorrow.


Have a blessed weekend.


+FR

Patf's picture
Patf

but another factor could be the way you cool the loaves after baking.


I find that covering them with a cloth softens the crust - I think it's due to the water vapour rising from the hot loaf and not reaching the outside air.

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

I cool them on a rack, always.  You are correct about covering the loaves because I purposely cover the bread I make for Holy Communion, which we don't want crusty at all but rather soft on top.


 


Thank


+FR

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

No fats or oils in P. Reinharts standard French bread recipe.  In Reinharts Bread Baker's Apprentice, a preferment (Pate Fermente) is required.  In his new book, the entire dough is placed in the frig overnight.   As for it being French, the recipe is much like that of Lebanese Talamee (of which you may not be familiar) but with added fat.  So do I care what it is called, no.  Your comment concerning Hamelman's (do I look on line for this?) Ciabatta, stirs my interest.  My wife (Orthodox priests can be married) likes Ciabatta ( I think she simply likes the name) so I've made Reinharts Ciabatta recipe from his new book, Artisan Bread Everyday, twice now.  People like it but I must say that since it is a very wet dough that is stretched and folded every 10 miniutes for 40 minutes, the structure is very airy, has nice holes but lacks body.  But then, what do I know.


 


Although I am not your typical American Pizza, I have much respect for Italian food and music so I too must be part Italian.


 

Franko's picture
Franko

 


Father,


Hamelman's book -Bread- A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes- is excellent. It's written I believe primarily for professional bakers but not to the exclusion of anyone who's keen to learn about the craft. It's well worth getting and is listed in the Recommended Books section on the left side of the TFL site.  In the meantime I'll play around with some recipes and see if I can't find a relatively quick rising French style bread that's low maintenance and will give you a crackly crust. Just bear with me for a time as I've got a few other projects on the go.


Franko

Father Raphael's picture
Father Raphael

Thank you.  I am embarrased to say I own Hamelman's book.  I purchased it when I began baking since it was recommended in the Bread Baker's Apprentice by Reinhart.  I wasn't ready for it then by any means but will now give it a try. 


+FR


 

008cats's picture
008cats

I found the typical rig-ups for kitchen stoves not entirely satisfactory. Everytime I started to get close and wanted to fine-tune things, the system wouldn't be pushed towards what I wanted. Over-all, I just couldn't get enough of a 'punch' of steam for long enough around the loaf.


Altho I am still tweaking preheat time/temp and baking temperature, I am finally in control using a hand held steamer and inverted pan on a stone (I bought the first two from the steam-maker-bread-baker guy, but folks at FL have made their own)


It's not a magic fix; you have to pick the right times and temps and steaming length for what you want, but it is a very reliable system that produces any kind of thick or thin crusts.


My fall-back system is a terracotta pot that I mist a set number of sprays and invert over the bread.


In both instances, steam is captured and not subject to venting or open door during loading.

RikkiMama's picture
RikkiMama

I've tried making French Bread twice using the recipe that came with the Williams-Sonoma French Bread pan.  Comparing that recipe to the one in Reinhart's ABED, there are a few minor differences in the quantity of ingredients, but basically the formulas are very similar.  The main difference is the recipe that came with the bread pan includes brushing the loaves with an egg white wash (1 egg white, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt), just before the loaves are put into the oven.  I also gave the loaves a light spray of water after the egg white wash, before placing them in the oven.  Both batches had lovely, golden cracked crusts...the crusts "sang" as they cooled on the rack. 


Maybe using the egg white wash will help you get that cracked crust on your French bread.  It's worth a try.

quickquiche's picture
quickquiche

I actually have a different question about crust flavor...


Not far from where I live is an artisan bakery that makes excellent baguettes. My sisters (who have been to France) both say this bakery's baguettes are the closest thing they've had to genuine Parisian bagauettes.


But what strikes me odd is the flavor of the crust. It has an almost "corn flake" flavor to it. And when i say that, I mean "corn flakes" like the cereal. The crumb is VERY white, but almost neutral tasting compared to the crust.


So I'd like to know if anyone has ANY ideas of how this baker might achieve this "corn flake" flavor in his crust...?


I asked KA's help line. They suggested it had to do with the aging of the starter. Like a long term proofing maybe.


If you have any other suggestions or ideas, I'd appreciate hearing from anyone on this. Thanks.


Tory