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Help with slumping French bread

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Postal Pete's picture
Postal Pete

Help with slumping French bread

Greetings!

In my recent retirement, I've branched out from a lifetime of family cooking into the realm of baking, specifically bread baking. My goal is to bake french bread from scratch. However, I cannot get over a certain hurdle. Here's my story...

I've tried probably 7-8 different artisan recipes and have made 12-14 different attempts but ALWAYS suffer from severe slumping on the second rise. Remember how you could put a rolled up ball of Silly Putty on the counter, only to return in 20 minutes to find that it's slumped flat? That's what all of my loaves do. I've tried shortening my first rise, switching to very active yeast, kneading more, kneading less, etc., you name it- I've tried it. My loaves turn out wonderfully- egg washed to perfection, gorgeous to the eye, tasty as can be, but none of them are over 2-3 inches tall. They look like glutenized slugs. Help!

Thanks in advance!

Pete

clazar123's picture
clazar123

As well as comments on your technique.Without that,we'd just be guessing on the troubleshooting.

To give an example of the many things I guess could contribute to slumping bread:  it could be the flour, hydration,overproofing, fermentation temperature,kneading,mixing time,shaping.......you get the idea. So tell us a recipe you use and how the dough behaves thru the different steps.

I know your frustration (been there) but just think of all you have learned.Was it Edison that said on the 1000th( and finally successful) try at making a light bulb-"It wasn't for naught-I learned 999 ways NOT to make a light bulb".

Postal Pete's picture
Postal Pete

Hi clazar123,

Thanks for your interst in my situation and swift reply!

As for recipes, when I started out, I mostly visited bread sites and D/L'd generic french bread recipes- nothing fancy. As my only previous experience had been making bread from a box in a bread machine, I first tried recipes that let me use the bread machine for mixing/kneading but then finishing as a free form. My last few efforts have been all traditional "hands on" recipes from start to finish. They all call for about 3-4 cups flour,1 packet of yeast, double-rise, etc. Again, nothing esoteric.

Here's some information on my techniques-

I always mix the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast dry in a bowl with a whisk. I have a quality digital thermometer and scrupulously adhere to the recommended temperature for the water in whatever recipe I use. Same with recommended times for rising. This last fall, I used my sun-room (toasty warm) for proofing but have also tried room temperature (65-70 degrees) and a slightly warmed oven as environments. Though I have no first-hand experience, I understand the principle involved in kneading and do my best. This may be a weak link in the chain.  I'm now using Fleischman's Very Active Yeast but have also tried their standard product as well as one other manufacturer's. For loaf shaping, I roll the dough out into a sheet (about 8 x 12 inches) and tightly roll into a loaf, pinching the ends and placing it on parchment paper, seam side down. I've also tried just free hand shaping the loaves. I bake on a regular aluminum baking pan (double-layer pan with a 1/8 air gap between layers) placed in a pre-heated oven on a baking stone.  

Here's some more observations about my situation-

I do always get uniform air cells in the dough but they're always uniformly small. I've yet to have a loaf explode into a ginormously expanded shape. Also, I'm struck by the fragility of the risen loaves. You know the old sitcom cliche about having your souffle collapse because someone in the next room sneezed? Well, all I have to do is bring my already poorly risen loaves into the kitchen to give them an egg wash, and in the time it takes to beat the egg, they've already slumped. It strikes me that they just don't have any structural backbone. If it would really help, I'll be glad to post one of the recipes I've used, but, as I've said, I stick to pretty much plain-Jane kind of stuff and they've all been flops in the same way. 

THANK YOU again for your interest in my plight! Any insights you could share will be MOST appreciated!

Pete

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

cut some chunks of time out of the bulk and the final rise.  Leave one third rise for the oven to have some fun too.... in other words, don't wait for the bread to look fully risen before baking it.  Try it and report back to work on those holes.  Thanks for the details.  

Welcome to TFL!   

clazar123's picture
clazar123

That is a classic description of an overproofed loaf. You may have strong enough gluten but it is being asked to hold things up too long. Think of holding a  10 lb weight out at arms length for an hour-eventually the muscle fibers just fail and won't hold. Same with gluten fiber.

Sometimes bread will rise or proof WAY sooner than any recipe will tell you. I've had loaves be finally proofed after 10 min and some after 2 hours and sometimes its the same/similar recipe! So start with changing the proofing times.  The holes are a different story.

wayne on FLUKE's picture
wayne on FLUKE

While I agree with the likely over-proofing, you might try a couple of stretch and folds during the bulk rise to build additional strength to the dough as well.

I suggest watching some videos such as those linked to from the  "Video lessons with Master Baker Jeffrey Hamelman" posted here on TFL. This will help give you a better idea how the dough should look and feel at different stages. They helped me a lot. Still looking for better holes, however. :-)

wayne

Postal Pete's picture
Postal Pete

THANK YOU, all, for your insights! It's funny, but the notion that I was letting the dough overproof was only just now beginning to creep into my thoughts, so your collective consensus comes as no big surprise. It was sort of the elephant in the room.

Even though there's always only the same basic ingrediants in the recipes I've tried, it always puzzled me to see the sometimes wildly disparate rising times listed. I see now that some seat-of-the-pants flying is called for, not just strict adherence to the recipe specifications. Gee, ya think that's why bread making is an art, not a science? <grin> As I've made two slug loaves already this week, I think I'll wait for the weekend to try again. I'll be sure to write back and let you guys know how things turned out. Can't thank you enough for pitching in to help me!

Take care y'all,

Pete

lazybaker's picture
lazybaker

Ingredients for French bread are flour, water, yeast, and salt. Adding sugar and applying egg wash will brown the bread too quickly before it gets done since French bread bakes at a very high temperature. 

I use bread flour or King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour. I don't use all-purpose from other brands because they end up being too dense with small holes and tough if underproofed.

You will need a couche or a well-floured linen towel to hold the shape of the shaped dough. And then transfer them with some kind of paddle board to flip them onto a baking stone or pan. 

Search on youtube for videos because they have videos on how to shape the dough, use a couche, and transfer the bread for baking.