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Old 12-07-2011, 08:13 PM   #1
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French Bread

Hi everyone, this is only my 2nd day as a member on D.C I'm still finding my way around but so far its be tons of fun, so I have been searching for the perfect French bread recipe, I love baking bread , I have even gone so far as to take measurements of my oven and had a stone mason cut 1/4 stone sections to fit in the bottom rack to mimic a stone oven, I have tried several different French bread recipes , with no luck either the crust is perfect and the inside is not right or the inside is perfect and the crust rubbery , I have tried , steam in the oven , bricks, pizza stones , but just can't quite get it, I'm no novice in the kitchen but for some reason French bread isn’t my best friend right now, any ideas tips, direction would be very appreciated .
Thanks.
Carolynn

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Old 12-09-2011, 01:09 PM   #2
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It's hard to tell without ingredients, quantities, and details of how they're being handled. But we'll assume a valid recipe and proper technique and make a few points, because I suspect that you might be trying too hard to do things "French."

Steam is kind of hard to do in conventional ovens, and all conventional ovens differ. I'd suggest instead to brush the dough with water just before they go into the oven. I used to spray or poor a cup of water into a hot pan in the bottom, but it was no better than brushing.

When using stones or bricks, it takes a while for them to come up to temperature all the way through, so that they can do what you want them to do. Preheat with them in the oven for 30 minutes or longer on very high heat. But you really can't emulate a brick oven without, well, a brick oven. What you can do is build a brick oven within your oven. A stone floor, side uprights, and a stone cap, so the bread goes inside. WAY too much fooling around for the marginal difference it makes. I've tried stones, but I make mostly baguettes, and nothing beats my perforated baguette pan.

Now, you said you took measurements before having the stone cut. Does that mean you lined it all the way side to side and front to back? That will defeat the oven's function. The heat source is at the bottom, and much depends on the flow of air up around the bread. That may well be the source of the crust problem. It may just not be recovering from having the door open, and that first few minutes is critical to the crust. Try just one stone or just enough for the loaf, in the center of the rack. I'm very leery of anything bigger than absolutely necessary. A lot of testing and engineering went into designing the oven to correctly maintain and distribute heat. Remember how a wood-fired brick oven works. The wood is fired and the oven heated and the wood pushed to the sides and back. The heat is from all directions.

I don't worry about the classic crumb with big holes. If I get it, fine, If I don't fine. But I find I get better results if I let the dough rest for a 20 - 30 minute period to autolyze before kneading. There's a very distinct difference in the texture of the dough and a better crumb.

Recipes for, say, baguettes, are pretty generic. But this is close to my basic, and I've never had a failure. I have to say that I adjust by sight and feel to compensate for changes in humidity by bumping the flour while kneading in the mixer, having the dough just hard enough to clean the sides of the bowl. And I take some care in working the dough into baguettes. (But don't take the specification for "bread flour" too seriously. American all-purpose flour is pretty close to what they use for bread in France. I find little difference, mainly bolder crumb with bread flour. Meh!

Classic Baguettes and Stuffed Baguettes: King Arthur Flour

And see the blog photos:
Baguettes: DO try this at home. | King Arthur Flour

I would, at his point drop back, take the stones out, and just execute the above on a parchment lined baking sheet, to guarantee a success, and then move on changing one thing at a time, if you want to try the other stuff.
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Old 02-14-2012, 11:15 AM   #3
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Water - Weight Loss

We baked two loaves of NYC Italian style bread this AM at 400F for 30 - 35 minutes. The unbaked loaves weighed 14 ounces each. The baked loaves weighed 12 ounces each. Is the 14% gross weight loss about normal? I guess the 14% gross weight loss equates to the evaporation of some 30% of the water weight.
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Old 02-14-2012, 12:34 PM   #4
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Carolynn,
When I moved out to Montana from the east coast (NJ, NY) the first thing I noticed was how bad the bread was! Even commercial made bread. Altitude, moisture in the air, all effects the dough. If I stuck to a recipe, it would never come out right! My pizza dough would be terrible, bread would be as you said, crispy out side doughy inside. I finally decided to through away the cookbook and and go by "feel". I found that a wetter dough (pizza) was working better. Just adding enough flour to keep it from sticking to the mixing bowl and kneading for at least 30 minutes.
As for French bread I knead in the mixer for about 3 minutes until blended (kitchen aid on speed 2) then knead for 8 to 10 minutes on speed 8. Hold on to the mixer!! Shape the dough, on an oiled pan cover the dough without touching it with a cloth or film and let it rise until well doubled in size, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. It comes out OK but not like the bread back east. I hope this helps. Joe
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