The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

French Bread

Lillibread's picture

French Bread

About a year ago I began baking french bread - I've primarily been using Ciril Hitz recipie from "Baking Artisan Bread".  I'm not getting the air pockets that I'd like in the crumb structure.  I'm wondering if someone might have advice for me.  The recipe calls for a poolish - I've been careful re: time/temperature in that regard.  Same w/ the dough.  I've got a Kitchen Aid mixure - I've try to be uber concious about not over working the bread in the mixing process.  Most of the time I use fleischmann's yeast.  I've stayed w/ the recipe is well re: amount of salt.  I've as well been careful not to de-gas the bread as I'm shaping the loaves.  On a couple of ocassions I've even over-proofed the dough just to see if that might make a difference.  It hasn't.  Anybody got any idea on how to get some air (hot air or otherwise) into this bread.  Appreciate your help.


alabubba's picture

First off, You are going to have to work pretty hard to over work the dough in you Kitchen Aid.

For open crumb, try increasing the hydration, and be careful with the handling of the dough.

Try decreasing the yeast and increasing the fermentation. I like to proof in my fridge overnight.

I am sure others will pop on here with more tips.

wally's picture

Lillibread - Folks on TFL are very generous with their knowledge, but it's hard when you give us so little to work with.  What kind of french bread (the recipe would be a big help)?  Pictures?  That would be very helpful.  Fleishmann's? Are you using active dry yeast or instant dry yeast or....?

And your shaping.... what kinds of loaves are you attempting to shape?

Finally, poolish.  Poolish is a very finicky preferment that can cause you a lot of problems if you aren't familiar with it.

We're open to working with you, but we need a little help on your end.

BTW - Overproofing the bread will never help with an open crumb.


wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

When one recipe doesn't work for you, move to another, I'd say.

I don't know enough about your current method, but here's the one I've used for a decade or so. Note that it's AP flour, not bread flour. French bread requires a low-protein flour.





STAGE 1 (Build starter)


   +mix walnut-sized piece of old, raw dough

   +83 g AP flour

   +60 g water @ 105 F

   +knead all ingredients into rough ball of dough, does not have to be uniform or smooth

   +place dough in bowl; cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap

   +8-hr fermentation @ 75 - 85 F


STAGE 2 (Enlarge STAGE 1 starter)


   +STAGE 1 starter

   +94 g AP flour

   +60 g water @ 105 - 115 F

   +knead all ingredients into rough ball of dough, does not have to be uniform or smooth

   +place dough in bowl; cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap

   +4-hr fermentation @ 75 - 85 F


STAGE 3 (Build Dough    + Bulk Fermentation)


   +STAGE 2 starter

   +416 g AP flour

   +296 g water @ 105 - 115 F

   +1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast (1/3 teaspoon rapid yeast)

   +1 Tablespoon salt


   Add to mixer with dough hook (and *strictly* observe rest periods (autolyse)) as:


   +water, yeast, Stage 3 starter (chopped into walnut-sized pieces so easier to mix into dough)

   +rest for 5 minutes without mixing, basically allowing starter to relax after chopping

   +add AP flour

   +mix on low until just combined

   +rest for 10 minutes

   +add salt

   +mix 5-7 min, or to 78 F

   +put dough in lightly-oiled bowl


   +allow to rise for 90 minutes @ 75 - 85 F


   +lightly fold dough from edge to center (don't degas too much)


   +rise for 45 min


   +preheat oven to 470 F

   +insert steam pan (for steaming loaves are put in oven)




   +shape (baguettes, etc), careful not to degas too much

   +bake immediately (if you degassed too much, allow shaped-dough to rise some, maybe 30 minutes, then bake)

   +put loaves in oven

   +steam oven (3/4 cup warm/hot water added to preheated steam pan)

   +reduce oven to 420 F

   +do not open oven door at all for first 20 minutes

   +vent to oven after 20 minutes by briefly opening the oven door

   +bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown



- Credit: most of this process is from Raymond Clavel and Steve Sullivan (Acme Bakery)


wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Made baguettes using this process yesterday. Result? Great French bread with big holes. Mein gott, did I really just eat two whole baguettes. Time for a loooong bike ride.'s picture

Lillibread, I think we have the same problem. I use a poolish (because it is easier to handle in my opinion and research said a thicker/heavier preferment gives a more sour flavor). I've tried inreassing/decreasing time for rise &/or temp. I also use a KA mixer and am very careful handling my dough so not to degas too much. I've done the final rise in the refrig overnight and at room temp (Room temp in upper 70's and high humidity here in FL)  They say wetter is better (I get it to a tacky, not sticky, dough and it still collapses) I find that sometimes I have to add quite a bit of extra flour than the recipe calls for in order to get a "dough" rather than a thick batter. I use sea salt, filtered water, and organic grains.  When I gently turn the dough from the proofing basket on to the oven peel, it collapses; slash the top and put it in a preheated oven (I put a pan of water in the oven,usually heat my baking stone to 500, put the bread in, spritz the inside of the oven for steam x 3, then lower the temp to 450-475 ( I've tried lower with same or worse results).  I get a nice crust, the bread tastes great, but it spreads out (they all look like ciabatta) and there is very little oven spring (none of those nice rounded split loaves I see in the pictures). The crumb is tight and the bottom is often hard to cut. I even tried spiking my bread with actve dry yeast, using vital wheat gluten (some on-line recipes refer to a "dough enhancer"--I checked it out and it is yeast, soy lecitan, protien, whey and vit.C) without avail................Help!

proth5's picture

I've said this so many times on these pages that it might well be my defining opinion.  Proper fermentation - slow enough - and to the right stage of development - not ever higher hydrations will result in the open crumb we so desire.

You tell us nothing about your bulk fermentation other than time and temperature.  Time and temperature are not really the best guides.  There's a lot of variability in the process, so you must learn to judge based on the feel and appearance of the dough. 

Mr Hitz does know what he talking about, so I assume that his formula is balanced for his conditions.  Mr Hamelman also knows what he doing, but when I attempted to use his formulas as written - nothing special.

What I found is that I needed to adjust the amount of flour that I prefermented (the flour in the poolish) and drop the amount of yeast to compensate for my altitude and ingredients.  Once I hit the magic number and learned to judge proper bulk fermentation - the big holes appeared pretty consistently.

Oh yes, sometimes "the bear gets me" and since I haven't baked bread in many months (story elsewhere on these pages) I'm not about to whip out recent photos, but once I got the formula right so that fermentation occurred properly I've never really looked back.

To easily adjust the amount of flour prefermented in any formula it is best to learn Baker's Math.  This is actually very simple math and such an incredible tool for understanding the nature of your formula that I often go on and on about it - so I won't this time.  There are others on these pages who are better teachers than I and there are some fundamentals covered in the "Handbook" that you see at the top of the home page.

Also, you have not told us how you treat the dough during bulk fermentation.  About halfway through the total time you should be getting it back on to the bench and giving it a nice stretch and fold.  This process, again, is documented on these pages with many videos and I won't type the thousand words it would take to duplicate these.  This process helps to create a lot of little pockets in the dough that the yeast can happily inflate at later stages of the process to make those highly desired holes. I've spent a lot of time looking at my KitchenAid as it mixes with a dough hook (I only use it for mixing things like bagels where manual methods just won't cut it - I much prefer mixing most of my breads by hand) and I see that it tends to "smursh" (a technical term) the dough around in the bowl rather than properly folding it the way a spiral mixer or other types of mixers with differently designed dough hooks mix the dough.  This folding action during mixing creates little pockets in the dough, so if you have smurshing rather than folding action in you mixing, folds during the bulk fermentation are even more important.

Of couse, you don't want to over knead in the KitchenAid, but you also want to make sure the dough is developed enough. Again, the Handbook can help in this regard.

I have personally seen world famous bakers give fermentation bubbles a quick slap in the shaping process - and heard some quotable quotes that I've also used once too often on these pages about overly gentle shaping (Oh, the things I've heard - the world is not yet ready...).  "Iron hand in velvet glove" - not my quote, but a good one.

So, I would look to the quality of the bulk fermentation (not easy to teach over the internet - and I have too many shortcomings as a teacher to try - I'm sure others will), folds, proper fermentation, % of flour pre fermented, and quantity of yeast in the formula as starting places.  As long as the hydration in the original formula is 65-68% and you use all purpose flour, better to master bread at the formula hydration than simply make the dough wetter.  When you have the moderate hydrations well in hand, then you may wish to increase hydration to change the qualitites in the bread.

Hope this helps.