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Need help w/French Bread, please!

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Please note "I am a beginner"! I made a loaf of FB yesterday, using the recipe in my KA user's manual and it looked pretty good when I got thru, but the crust was very tough :( and the bread was not "light & airy" like I would like it to be. I used AP flour, as called for in the recipe.....would bread flour have been better? Will someone give me some tips on this and perhaps a better recipe?

Thanks a million!

Pam :)
post #2 of 20
The differene between bread and all purpose is the amount of the protein called "gluten" present in the flour, bread being the highest of the 2. Gluten, when worked like in a dough, will form stretchy elastlic strands that causes the whole dough to bind and the more you work the dough, the more you develop those strands and the tougher the dough will be. With higher gluten or harder flours, the gluten is much more easier to develop and whatever your making in the end up tougher.

Now, dispensing with the science. The gluten strands will rest if you rest the dough, quicker if you rest the dough in the fridge. You probrably should use bread flour for bread (duh!), but again, rest the dough and don't over work it. You can tell if the dough is tough to roll out.
post #3 of 20
I always recommend that beginner bread bakers avoid what are called lean breads. That is to say a bread who's only ingredients are Flour, water, yeast and salt. As simple as it may seem, getting it right takes a lot of practice.

Not to say you shouldn't practice but as a beginner you will achieve better results faster by making enriched bread dough. That is one where there are a lot of other ingredients to crete flavor and texture - like eggs, butter, sugar, etc. Once you become used to handling dough and getting to know the different characteristics you can graduate to the lean doughs.

post #4 of 20
I've used that recipe many times always successfully. Trust the recipe.

Did you allow the dough to rise properly? Did you use the dough hook and the speeds stated for the exact number of minutes?
post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 
Yes, I did. I live in N FL and right now the humidity is very high....could that cause a problem?

post #6 of 20
Yes, high humidity can certainly affect dough much more than people realize.

You can try turning on your oven to the lowest setting possible and leave the door ajar so it doesn't get too hot. But this will provide an environment of dry heat where you can raise the dough. The dough should be lightly coated in olive oil which should be enough to keep the surface elastic enough to rise. You'll also cover the bowl with a towel. If you want, you can use a very slightly damp towel to compensate but I really don't think you'll need it with the humidity in the room that the oven is countering.

Reference for anyone reading this thread, the recipe is here:
post #7 of 20

I live in Central Florida, where we talk about 100/100, 100 deg. and 100% humidity. In any case, a couple of years ago I worked to recreate the french bread I had while visiting France for a few months. I used a recipe not dissimilar from yours. Don't ever use margarine however, it's really bad for you and the outcome isn't worth wasting the other ingredients. There are three things that eventually made the difference, two of which made the biggest difference.

The first, and biggest difference in the quality of my bread, was using a "Starter" or a "Sponge". This is 1/3 of the flour, all of the yeast, and enough water to make a pasty ball that is then dropped into a deep pot of warm water. When this rises to the top you then use it with the rest of the ingredients to complete the recipe. It makes an incredible difference. Did you know some "starters/sponges" in France are decades old?!?! You can manage one for years if you want but I start fresh each time; though I did leave one, after it rose, in a bowl on my counter for two days to try a version of San Francisco Sour Dough and it came out really good.

The second and close contender for affecting the quality was a good Stone. I don't care for the synthetic type, way too small and not enough mass to do the job, so a waste of time and money. Go to a Stone yard and pick out a flat, dense stone or sandstone that is larger than a rack in your oven and at least an inch thick, more than 2 is likely a waste. It should be heavy enough that you will probably need to have someone carry it for you, chip the edges down to fit into the oven (go slow, take small chips else you'll be back at the stone yard for a new stone) and then get it into the oven laid onto one of the racks. Make sure it covers at least 90% of a rack.

Before using it cure it by running the oven at 250 to 300 for at least an hour and then 350-375 for at least 40 minutes. Don't open the door and let it cool at least 15 to 20 minutes before you do open the door. You want to do this to not only cleanse the stone but to drive out as much moisture as you can that might crack the stone if you simply popped it in and cranked up the heat. A good stone turns most ovens into much better ovens, so just leave it in there, cookies, pies, pizzas, bread, everything just simply cooks much better. I've even had a "southwest" steak cooked directly on one, it was really great. Anyway, clean it with a scouring brush or wire brush, ***never*** with chemicals as the stone soaks these up and gasses them back out when heated. If you chemically clean your oven take the stone out and clean it separately.

Lastly, the technique of rolling the inside of the bread outward in a skin-forming, lightly stretching exercise while forming the loaves is actually important to the interior of the bread. I think it has to do with creating the right thickness of gluten-skin that will hold the moisture in the inside while escaping at just the right rate through the skin to cook the interior and the outside crust correctly. The topmost, outer crunch by the way has to do with the egg, milk, or butter surface brush you use before popping your loaves into the oven. Don't forget to lightly score the loaves before putting them into the oven, toss a thin layer of corn meal onto the stone for the loaves to rest on and when done baking let the bread rest at least 10 minutes before digging in and trying it.

Last note, I assume you have a kitchen that is served by Central Air Conditioning. So while humidity will absolutely affect the outcome of your bread making (you're not likely to create the same bread made in Avignon or Phoenix for that matter), not following or incorrectly applying certain techniques will greatly affect your bread quality. Two references I used were Madeliene Kammen's "When French Women Cook" a good read besides a good cookbook, and "The Way to Cook", a new version is available as "The New Way to Cook" and is an excellent cookbook in many ways. Also, I recently caught an episode of Alton Brown's "Good Eats" show that gave a decent review of forming the outside skin. Madeleine Kammen goes into greater detail but seeing it is definitely helpful. The skin forming practice was the only tedious part of the process for me as I only had a description at the time and I didn't understand it's importance or purpose at the time. Once you get it down however, it's not a chore and just a natural way of forming the look of the loaves you are familiar with.

Remember to just have fun and enjoy the less than perfect attempts with a glass of good wine and your best butter, jam and or cheese. It won't take but two or three attempts to get you great bread, keep at it and you'll have the best boulangerie in Northern Florida. Bon Chance.
post #8 of 20
Oops, forgot one point. French bread is the most amazing thing to me. Just flour, water, yeast, salt done right makes an incredible food. You can't imagine the difference forgetting the salt makes. Just slightly changing the ratios of ingredients makes amazing differences. So, I've come to know that to make truly wonderful french bread means that you have to find how the base recipe needs to be applied in your kitchen, with the ingredients and oven available to you. There will always be *the base recipe* but the outcome depends on the practice of working out what works in that kitchen. So don't despair over your first attempt, wait until the 15th or 20th, ;-)
post #9 of 20
I have to disagree with a couple of things. The relative strength of the gluten is not what makes a bread tough. You can over knead a dough, but this will cause the gluten to begin to degrade. What I'm trying to say is that there is a point of diminishing returns when developing gluten. Beyond this point gluten is less strong, not stronger.

Devleoping the gluten in higher protien flours, like bread flour is more difficult, not less. It is very, very difficult, unless you spend a lot of time lifitng weights, to properly develop the gluten in bread flour by hand. King Arthur used to market their bread flour as Special for Bread Machine flour. You really need the strength of mixer/machine to develop the gluten in bread flour.

Lastly I don't think comments like "You probably should use bread flour for bread (duh!)," are particularly helpful. The fact is that many advise that strong flour is not good for baguettes. French flour is typically softer than American flour.

The likely culprit in the dough dough scenario is insufficient water in the dough and an oven that may not be hot enough. French bread/baguette dough is VERY well hydrated. As the moisture turns to steam in the oven it expands. THis expanding steam gets trapped by the gluten strands and results in the open airy crumb we associate with baguettes. The thin crust of bakery baguettes is also reliant on a healthy does of steam i the oven during the first 10 minutes, or so, of baking. THis is hard for us home bakers to pull off.

French bread is much more challenging than you might think. If you are a bona fide bread beginner, follow Jocks advice. Play with an enriched dough over and over again. Enriched doughs are much more forgiving and your fingers will get lots smarter.
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
post #10 of 20
I have to agree with Kyle, I just wanted to add that there is a myth about not getting good crusty in Fl. The biggest problem is the commercial perveyors.Most handle local Southern flours. I had an Uncle Tubba who had a bakery in the middle of Florida. He trucked his patent flour in from the East. People would drive 100's of miles for the bread. He said it was easier to produce in Fl. He dry proofed longer and wet proofed shorter. He always told me in Italian, if the bread isn't chasing you and you are chasing the bread, open a pizza joint. The biggest reason I don't work with yeast.
post #11 of 20

You reminded me of something I had totally forgotten about. A trick that was suggested to me by a chef friend who told me he used it when he baked in his oven. He put a dry cast iron skillet in the oven during preheat and after putting the bread in and closing the door for five minutes opened it up and quickly tossed a 1/2 cup of water in the skillet and just as quickly closed the door and left it closed until baking was done.

I tried it a couple of times but gave it up as a mess, likely more dangerous than I cared to practice (if it ever busted my stone) and I think this was the time I found the starter giving such great results I just dropped trying it. I certainly would'nt suggest it for the inexperienced or lightly experienced home baker. Sticking your arm into an already crowded and hot oven to throw water on a hot iron skillet was an exercise in Kung Fu, I can tell you.

However, I have heard more than once what you have related, steam (or wet heat) for the first ten minutes is a good thing. It's likely I just had the set up wrong, If anyone has a better way of getting it done perhaps they could share it.
post #12 of 20
I have a 1/2 sheet pan on the floor of my oven, underneath my HearthKit. When I load my loaves I pour a cup of HOT water onto the sheet pan and close the oven. I don;t open the door again for 20 minutes. This is the closest I've come. It seems to work pretty well. 1 Cup seems about the right amount, as it is pretty much gone after 10 minutes.

"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
post #13 of 20
It is. Many recipes will say to use a spray bottle of water but Kyle's is a good idea as well.

The steam allows for the outside of the bread to remain elastic. This is long enough while the yeast is still alive and expanding the bread for optimum rise before the yeast dies from the rise in the internal temperature.

Otherwise, the outside would harden and the inside would not be allowed to expand.
post #14 of 20
I always steam my breads, and always get a great loaf
"Isn't it a pity, Isn't it a shame, How we break each others hearts and cause each other pain" George Harrison
"Isn't it a pity, Isn't it a shame, How we break each others hearts and cause each other pain" George Harrison
post #15 of 20
Just a couple of things. Sorry I'm late with this.

1. We need to clear up the concept of gluten. All wheat flours have protein but at various levels. Soft wheat flours(for cake) have protein levels around 7 -8%. The protein is not developed because cake needs to be tender. It is the starch that sets the structure for chemically leavened cakes.

Pastry flours used for pies and cookies have protein levels running around 8 to 9%. Again we don't develop these.

All purpose flours run about 10% protein and are sold in supermarkets. This is a blend of soft and hard wheats. No commercial bakery uses all purpose flour(at least I hope not.) It is common for the home baker but something the serious baker should get away from.

In bread we use Hard Spring or Winter wheat flours with protein levels anywhere from 11 to 13 %. There are flours with higher protein for specific uses; they get very expensive and are rarely needed.

Wheat flour has proteins not gluten although many interchange the two. The major protein groups are gliadins and glutenins which make up about 70% of wheat protein.

Here it comes -- When you add the water and you start to mix, gluten strands are formed. As the dough is developed the gluten strands increase and encircle and encase the starch particles (and everything else in the formula.) The gluten setting during baking is what forms the structure of the bread.

Yes, there is another product called Vital Wheat Gluten. This is the protein separated from the rest of the flour in a washing-drying process which involves forming a "dough."
VWG is normally used for make up for low or poor quality protein in a flour. It is also used extensively in products like "light breads" where the flour content has been reduced to reach calorie claims.

2. "Overmixing" does not make bread tough. It would cause what is called "letdown" and then "breakdown" and would result in inferior bread. A dough must be fully developed to where you can "show me the window," otherwise you have wasted your money buying high and good quality protein flour. Toughness is caused by other factors and is actually desired in some bread products.

3. Steam must go in the oven right at the beginning.
post #16 of 20
"All purpose flours run about 10% protein and are sold in supermarkets. This is a blend of soft and hard wheats. No commercial bakery uses all purpose flour(at least I hope not.) It is common for the home baker but something the serious baker should get away from"

Mr. Cookieguy,
I'm thinking you need to have some KA apf sent to you. I can't recall being in a bakery without apf. We have many uses. There are very good apf's made with hard wheat, actually better then the moderately priced, inconsistant, pastry flour garbage from the local vendors. Just my 2 cents :D
Yu got som splaining to do, Im lisening ;)
post #17 of 20
UFC comes to ChefTalk?

Play nice boys :)

I have to agree with Jeff. There is no correlation between use of AP flour and one's degree of baking seriousness.
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
post #18 of 20
Now don't get all upset. Sorry it took me so long to get back, I travel alot. I've been searching through Pyler's Baking Science and Technology (considered by many to be the bible of the baking industry) and couldn't even find a reference to all-purpose flour. Perhap's my statement was an attempt to get beginning bakers to get away from AP flour to a patent or bread flour to make bread. What I forget is that users of this web site range from beginning home bakers, to experienced retail bakers, to pastry chefs and to R&D scientists of very large commercial bakeries. I realize many recipes are written with AP flour in mind. Typically the home or beginning baker will buy AP flour (at a supermarket) to make pie crust or bread but it isn't really suited for either. Too much protein for crusts, not enough for "bread." If you experienced guys have specific uses for a specific AP flour that works for you - that's super. But I have seen no large, commercial bakery that silos "all-purpose" flour. They have cake flour, "cookie" flour, pastry flour, clear flour, patent flour (I'm talking wheat here) and straight flour. I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings; I'm still getting used to this site - please forgive me. I'm one of the dumb scientists.
post #19 of 20
Well you get one time and then we get the kitchen whips out!!! :D In retail shops you will usually find APF. I absolutely agree, store bought apf is pretty lousy. Do check into some good hard wheat apf, I think you will be pleasantly surprised especially for scones, cookies and such(not all). Most bakeries will not even store pastry flour. They'll just mix cake and hard. Now you are probably right that large bakeries will not silo apf, thats because they use that silo for the presersitives, mold inhibitors, stablizers and bleach :D Take this board with a grain of salt. There are very few who post maliciously. I really enjoying reading your posts. I also agreed about getting the home baker away from the grocery store products, that's why I make the King Arthur reference. Scientist? What do you do?
post #20 of 20
I appreciate your humor. I develop new products, formulas and processes for a very large baking company here the US. Can't say who or how long I've being doing it.

For reference:
1. Preservatives and mold inhibitors usually come to about 0.1 or 0.2% of a total product. Without them there would be no mass made cake products. I would worry more about the pesticides and herbicides sprayed in the fields. They are in everyone's ingredients including yours.

2. Stabilizers, such as gums and starches, are from basically natural sources. They may undergo some modification, however, which can turn some people off. Gums are mostly extrudates of trees or made from seaweed, etc.

3. By bleach I assume you mean bleached flour (cake).
About 2 to 5 ounces of chlorine are used to bleach 100 pounds of flour. Just don't inhale while you eat. No, just kdding. Some countries in Europe don't allow bleached flour. We would have a real problem making commercial hi-ratio cakes without it. I haven't heard of any movement in the US or Canada to ban it.

See you next time.
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