The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Getting a nice *airy* French bread loaf, plenty o' holes?

aster's picture

Getting a nice *airy* French bread loaf, plenty o' holes?

Hi all.

Novice bread baker here. Recently I've been trying to get a decent simple home-baked French bread loaf, and while my results have been "serviceable" I'd like to really kick it up a notch.

I've been going off the French breard recipe in Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" - pate fermentee left overnight and the loaf made by-the-book & shaped either into a batard or in a rectangular loaf pan. Everything generally looks good throughout the process (though I'm only now getting the hang of shaping/pinching the batard so it doesn't spread outward completely) and in the initial baking stages I get good oven spring, etc. But when sliced open the loaves tend to not have all the variable-sized holes that you find in bakery French bread. Mine are mostly small and uniform with occasionally a couple slightly bigger ones mixed in, but never the nice airy cavities that give it the rustic look & texture.

Here's an example of a recent pan loaf. This is my best result by far - most look a bit denser - but as you can see it doesn't have any nice big bubbles. Any tips would be much appreciated...

On another note, I've noticed my breads tend to have a yellowish tint when finished, much moreso than the French loaves I buy at the local bakery. I'm guessing this is due to the flour (I've used King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill)?

breadforfun's picture

Your bread looks great - nothing to complain about.  It's got nice color, a thick crust, and what looks like a terrific crumb.  To get the large, irregular holes you generally need a high hydration (70% or more) dough.  Keep practicing and gradually increase the hydration as you learn to handle and shape the dough.  You'll get there in no time.



aster's picture

Thanks to both of you for the replies! I have to stress that that was definitely my best loaf, had a recent batard that came out denser but forgot to take a photo.

ars pistorica - I have heard of autolyzing but it's a pretty new concept to me. Appreciate the detailed instructions, I'll look into this further and see if I can work it in...

breadforfun - I still have a lot of trouble getting the batard to retain its shape during the final rise with any more hydrated doughs. They pretty much pancake after a short time. Any tips on getting a good shape/rise with moist doughs, or do I need to go the banneton route for that?


breadforfun's picture

When I first started out making hearth breads, I had a similar problem.  What helped me out was learning how to tell when the gluten was sufficiently developed, and also how to shape a loaf with a tight outer gluten sheath.  Both help to keep the structure and shape of hearth loaves.  There are lots of videos around (check youtube) about both topics.  I haven't got any references for you, but a search will yield many options.  Most of these breads will need some kind of basket for proofing, but you don't have to invest in a banneton of brotform just yet.  A collander lined with a tea towel (not terry cloth) will work just fine.  If you haven't read any books on the subject, I would recommend Hamelman's Bread.  It has lots of information on the whys and hows of bread making, plus many formulas which generally are very accurate and give good results.  I understand that a 2nd edition just came out, but I haven't seen it yet.



linder's picture

And don't forget to dust the tea towel liberally with flour or a mix of half rice flour and half AP flour or your loaf might stick to the tea towel when you try to get it out.

aster's picture

Many thanks. I figured the shaping technique was a big factor but didn't know how far that could go with especially moist doughs. Will do a little Youtube searching for demos. Gotta say, each time I try a new recipe it would be really helpful to have someone's grandma or a professional baker on hand to answer my 20 questions that aren't covered in the book!

And on the book topic, thanks for the Hamelman recommendation. I recently got Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice and am very happy with it - tons of well-presented info for the beginner and it seems even experienced bakers could get some mileage from it.

Will give some of these suggestions a try and post the results :)

breadforfun's picture

BBA was my first book as well.  It's easy to read and follow, and has good recipes.  If you want to dig deeper to understand bread making, though, I found Hamelman to be more informative.  Good luck and looking forward to see your posts.

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

Hello, I think your bread looks great, so I cannot help but wonder why you would want bigger holes?  I cannot comment on the recipe, as I have not seen it and do not have the time to look it up, but I can tell you a few things:  baking a loaf of any shape in a rectangular mould will, by nature, have a tighter, more compact crumb due the increased atmospheric pressure (most loaves prove in a shape that also allows expansion on a horizontal-axis, usually at a gently-graded pitch that allows a loaf to expand outward as it does upward, which structurally helps distribute the load-bearing forces in multiple directions).

If it's "nice airy french bread loaf plenty o holes" you want, try the following:


The night before make a sponge with part of the total flour, water and yeast content.  Mix the ingredients just until a shaggy dough is achieved.

For the sponge:

20% flour, all-purpose, approximately 11% protein content

15% water

.05% yeast, instant-dried

Final dough temperature:  21 - 23.5 degrees celsius.

Fermentation time:  3h, at room temperature, and then 12h (overnight) refrigerated.


The next morning, remove the sponge from the refrigerator and then autolyse the remaining flour and water.


For the autolyse:

80% flour, all-purpose, approximately 11% protein content

60% water

Final dough temperature:  21 - 23.5 degrees celsius.

Autolyse time:  1h30, at room temperature.


After the autolyse time is up, add the remaining salt and yeast as well as the sponge.  Several folds are recommended during the first two hours of bulk fermentation.  I would recommend baking in a pre-heated enamel cast-iron pot.


For the remaining ingredients:

2.2% salt

.25% yeast, instant-dried

Bulk fermentation time:  3h.

Pre-shape & rest time:  30m.

Proof time:  1h - 1h15m.

Desired loaf size:  Approximately 800g.

Bake:  250 degrees celsius for 30m, and then 225 degrees celsius 25m.


I hope this could be of help.

lazybaker's picture

Did you use a bread stone?

I find that using a well pre-heated bread stone (or unglazed quarry tiles) helps in large irregular bubble formation during baking. The large transfer of heat from stone to bread will help form large holes.

Also before I opened this topic, I thought the French bread might have been in a baguette or batard shape-- not in a loaf pan. I was a bit confused. haha Bread baked in a loaf pan usually don't have large holes, unless you create some air gap between the surface of the dough during the rolling and shaping.

aster's picture

Yeah, thought I'd had a couple photos of batards but all I could find was the pan loaf one. If anything my hand-shaped loaves have been denser so I posted that anyway as a display of my 'high water mark' so far.

Though I do have a baking stone (used for pizzas), I haven't tried it with bread yet. Will do so for the next go-round.


dabrownman's picture

tinned loaf.  It is a misconception that French bread have large holes.  Some do,  many don't.  Depends on the bread, amount of whole grains used, the recipe and hydration.