The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

No decent crust on French Bread

MNBäcker's picture
MNBäcker

No decent crust on French Bread

So,

I finished my WFO earlier this fall and am baking in it now. Breads are great and sell faster than I can bake them, but I encountered one particular issue:

I seem to have a problem gettin that nice, crispy crust on my French Bread. I am told that with my Whole Wheat or even Whole Wheat mix, the crust usually gets softer after the loaves cool off, but I'm a little disappointed that even the French Bread (Reinharts recipe, made with Sam's Club high-gluten bread flour) gets soft after it cools off.

I bake at around 550 degrees, give the loaves a good 5-8 seconds of steam with a brass-nozzled sprayer, and the crust is awesome immediately after baking. Once the loaves cool off, the crust gets soft.

I'm used to the baguettes we made in Germany (where, admittedly, we could add steam very easily and "remove" it after a few minutes) - those loaves would come out crisp and then shrink while cooling off, causing the crust to "fenster". It would crack and splinter.

Is there anything I can do differently to get better crust?

Thanks in advance,

Stephan

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

usually means a lot of moisture still inside.  Do you take internal temperatures on your loaves when you pull them out of the oven?  If not, you might try it, and then start pushing that number up some when you bake.  It depends on what the temps actually are, but higher will translate into dryer, and that will help the crust stay crisp.  Too high will dry it out too much, but I've not had any trouble with internal temps as high as 207F-208F.

Storage also enters into it. Do you bag the loaves?  In what?  How soon?  In my experience plastic bags always result in a softened crust within a very few hours.  I do it anyway, but I know the crust will soften as a result.  I just make sure the loaves are fully cooled all the way through before I pack them up.

Just some thoughts.  I hope it helps.
OldWoodenSpoon

MNBäcker's picture
MNBäcker

The inside temperature is usually anywhere from 195 to 205 degrees when I pull them out.

They actually get soft just sitting out on the counter. When I get ready to bag them, they go into paper bags with a perforated clear strip in the front. I normally don't bag them unless they are fully cooled, and if I have to, I leave the bag open.

BUT, as I said, it must have something do do with my baking - the loaves get soft as soon as they cool off.

Stephan

jcking's picture
jcking

Good air circulation will help. How humid is the area they are cooling in? Are they spaced well apart? Is the crumb wet?

Jim

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

What kind of French bread are you making that calls for high-gluten bread flour and a temperature of 550 F?

French bread is usually made with a low-protein flour like AP flour, not high-gluten, uses a firm preferment like pate fermentée, and is baked at 375 to 425 F.

Not that any of this helps with your mystery, as I wouldn't expect soft loaves from what you're doing if you're baking them to 200 F internal.

Are you adding any enrichments?

What's the humidity like there?

Nate Delage's picture
Nate Delage

Can you try baking at a lower temperature? 550 is quite high for a baguette. I'd suggest 450-480. This way your loves will spend more time in the oven and hopefully get rid of some of that moisture that's softening the crust once you take them out.

Also, try baking to a higher internal temperature more consitently. 195 is too low in my opinion. 205-210 is where you want to be. And closer to 210 when possible. You might have trouble getting to 210 if you bake at 550, meaning you might risk burning your crust. So I think a slightly lower oven temperature will do the trick.

Best of luck and post some pictures of the results!

Nate

MNBäcker's picture
MNBäcker

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

The air circulation is great. i actually made some wooden racks from furring strips that allow for plenty of air to circulate around the loaves. There are at least three inches between loaves as they cool. They cool inside our home which has a current humidity of 32%. The crumb is not wet.

 

As to the recipe: it's Peter Reinhart's French Bread recipe from "Artisan Breads Every Day". Nothing spectacular - just flour, salt, yeast and water. I don't add anything else to it. I figured the higher baking temperature wouldn't hurt anything, as long as the internal temp is right when I pull them out. I will make a small batch with AP flour next time, to see if there's a difference.

Lastly, Nate: this last batch was actually baked at about 450 degrees, since the oven had cooled down a bit more than what I expected, and I needed to get the loaves in. From your comment I gather I could try to leave them in a little longer next time, right?

Thanks again - if anybody else has any other suggestions, feel free to chime in.

 

Stephan

MANNA's picture
MANNA

Try running a batch through the oven without steam or just a quick spray then close the oven. If your oven seals very tight then you could be steaming the loafs the whole time they are in. Or open the oven door after a bit to let out excess steam allowing the crust to dry a bit in the latter half of the bake.

Chefdan3766302's picture
Chefdan3766302

In my experience of baking french bread. I've always started the oven off at 500F. Loaded in the bread, dropped the temp to 425. Injected 20seconds of steam into the oven and baked with the steam in the oven for 5 minutes. Vented my oven for 2 minutes, and continued baking for another 16 minutes. The french bread recipe is at 66% hydration, and is made with High Gluten flour. 
Perhaps a longer steam time is needed, and a good vent to release the moisture from the oven.