The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I think I have finally figured out French Bread!

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ErikVegas's picture

I think I have finally figured out French Bread!

I know that French bread is one of the basics but for some reason mine was always this little anemic flat loaf while my soudough was big and bountifull.  My wife asked me to make Chicken soup and fresh bread yesterday at 2:00 in the afternoon.  This ment that I needed to do a fairly quick bread in order to have it ready by 6:00PM for dinner.  I was always disapointed with my french bread but I decided to try a little experiment.  I never got a good rise out of my bread I though maybe I should add a little more liquid to the dough.  I decided to make my loaf with a 70% hydration rather than the 60-65% that it usually was.  I started with 4 cups of KA all purpose flour which weighed out to around 580 grams added 406 grams of water 3 tsp of instant yeast and 1/2 tsp of salt.   I hand mixed it in a bowl for about 2-3 min until the dough had just come together and them poured it out on to a lightly floured counter.  I activly kneeded the dough for about 10 min.  At first the dough was very wet and sticky (wet hands a re a must when handling the dough at this point) but as I worked the dough and picked up the flour on the counter the dough tightend up nicely and had that silky, supple texture that I have been looking for.  During the kneeding I probably added about about 3 dashes of additional flour (dash = 3 finger grab) too keep the dough from sticking to the counter but this was the first time that I actually had a dough that passed the window pane test without a problem!  I put the dough in my proofing bucket and let it sit.  It had trippled in size in just a little over an hour  (kitchen was kind of warm since I was boiling soup at the time) and I poured it out on to the counter, divided it in half and shaped my loaves.  I put them on my french bread pan covered them with a slightly moist towel and let them rise for 45 min while the oven was prefeating to 450 degrees.  All I can say is WOW.  The rise I got was perfect.  I scored the tops popped them in the oven, added my 2 cups of boiling water to an old bread pan and misted the sides of the oven.  10 minutes later I opened the oven rotated the loaves and misted the walls again.  I closed it up and let it bake for an additional 18 min.  (28 min total baking time)  I popped them out of the oven when the internal temp was right about 200 degrees.  They were beautiful, light brown, thin crispy crust, soft and chewy center, and one of the best flavors that I have had in such a short fermentation bread.  I think that given this discovery I will be adding the french loaf back into my rotation.



Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

Excellent.  Keep us posted.


BerniePiel's picture

Your posting was really interesting to me and mirrored some of the results I've had of late with several of my loaves.  I found that if I kept the dough slightly more hydrated, the final loaf was larger, better air bubble development, chewy centers and better flavor.  I also found that if I cover the loaf with a container, as expressed by Shao Ping, that the difference in oven spring is wildly dramatic--an increase of 100 to 150%.  I did a side by side test on this method and I was amazed at the difference.  The interesting thing about this discovery was that I poured 10 oz of water on to an enameled tray in the bottom of my oven every 4 or 5 minutes for 3 pours--the uncovered loaf still didn't rise as much as the covered one.  I should add that this was not for french bread baguette, rather a seeded batard.  I checked to see if I took photos of these as I usually do, but this time I did not.  Well, again, thanks for the tips.

Bernie Piel

patrick.h's picture

Eric, excellent result, having tried my first French sticks on Sunday and ended with a crispy coated undeveloped middle, I was pleased to see someone else has had similar problems and overcome them.

its me for a tryout of your method this weekend

kindest regards


ErikVegas's picture

For me I think one of the reasons that increasing the hyration level worked so well was that I live in Las Vegas.  With an average ambiant humidity of around 4 percent my flour starts out dryer that it would if I were living in Chicago.  ( I never get flour bugs either)  Since this worked so well I will probably increase my hydration level between 5-7% on all the breads that I make just to take this into account. (Whats the worst that could happen?)  Patrick, Please let me know how increasing the moisture works out for you.  Thanks again for all the good comments.