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Tips for French Bread, Please

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Brand new to baking breads so I thought I'd ease into it.  Found Galley Wench's no-knead yes-beer recipe #309834 @ for starters and the dough behaved as described.


Recipe [Exact ingredients, paraphrased instructions]:  1.5c lager, 1.5c water, 1TBS white vinegar, 1.5TBS instant yeast (I sub active dry and bloomed it in 1/2c of the original 1.5c water), 1TBS Salt, 29.25oz (1# 13.25' ) unbleached AP.  Mix dry first then add all wet all at once to incorporate.  Cover loosely rest 2-5 hrs room temp.  If not baking now, refrigerate overnite up to 10 days.  Baking stone on bottom rack (I sub quarry tiles), steam gizmo (a pan holding water) above the bread.


Brought the dough out this morning, cut & shaped it, and let it rest 1h15m per further instructions.


Meanwhile I preheated oven to 450 for 20 min AFTER reaching temp, with clean dry quarry tile lining the rack at bottom position.


Transferred shaped/rested dough to a pizza peel dusted with pulverized pasta, then slid 'em into the "at home brick oven" so to speak.  Positioned loaves [2 (1#) boules in the rear, 2 (1/2#) long rolls middle, and 1 (1/4#) bun roll at front] thinking I'd have to take out the smaller ones first.  Sprayed, steamed & let them bake at the same 450 per instructions.  


After 10-15 I smell an acrid burning that appears to be the dusting/pasta powder.  Careful not to disturb the bread, I brush some away & out of oven.  


Another 5 or so, more of the same smell. more intense this time.  I knew what was up.  Just not sure why.  Sure enough the bottoms are already scorched.  Recipe said to bake at 450 for 30-35.  :(


My questions:

  1. Might the result have changed with Corn Meal on the peel rather than pasta powder?
  2. Should the rack seriously be on the bottom position?
  3. Should I be turning the heat down after the crust is solid?
  4. How to judge differing baking times for the different sizes?
  5. "Should sound hollow when tapped; crackle & sing @ room temp air":  They all give a dull thud (not sure I'd call it "hollow") but the bun was perfect texture inside.  Haven't cracked into the others yet.    Didn't hear any crackling :(


Any insight will be greatly appreciated!  This dad needs to redeem himself in his bread-addicted son's eyes.





post #2 of 14

Hey Steve, That's pretty cool you did all that work on your home oven just to bake breads and what nots. Some of your issues might be caused by the modifications you did and your heat may need to be adjusted to compensate for that. I have only really baked that kind of bread at school in a deck oven with the built in steam thing. It has vents to open and close to control the moisture levels.  I did however play with my home oven trying to bake eclairs ( steam gizmo) and one of the things i read about was capping that vent that's in the small back burner. They just said to cap it with foil. 


I have never really heard or read about using pasta powder before and I cant really find any info by goggling it,  I would just stick with corn meal if I was you.


We use a thermometer to check doneness of breads its like 190 - 200F


Some recipes I read they start at a high temp and steam for 10-15 min then release the steam and turn the temp down for the rest of the time. It was like start at 450ish  then to 375.   


I am by no means a expert in this , just sharing what little I know to maybe help.

post #3 of 14

Probably burning the pasta. 


Put some baking parchment on an upside down baking sheet.  Use that as your peel, and you don't need cornmeal.  Alternatively, use corn meal. 


The idea of "no knead", beer in the dough, French bread, begs the question "What's French about it?"  But that's beside the point.  If it works for you, c'est bon. 



post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your reply, tasquah.


Can't take credit for the additions to my oven.  They actually come from The Grande Dame, Julia Child's TFC episode on French Bread, which I believe is also where I got the idea for pulverized pasta -- for use when you can't make it out to the store to get more corn meal that somebody used up without putting it on the grocery list... ;) Bad on me for not pulling everything together before starting.  But I don't remember for sure where I got that.  Won't be using it again though.  Thinking about it, egg, flour & water... of course it burns in such small particles!  Pasta is designed for wet cooking anyway.  Not sure why I din't question that one from the get-go.  Anyway,


Great tips, covering the vent.  Will try that and uncover it a bit before opening the door... smoke detector is very sensitive, even to steam. :( and checking the temp.  I have a remote with probe, just don't want to go poking holes in every loaf since they're different sizes, y'know?


I'll try again, moving the rack up a notch or two, then using the two stage temperature that you suggest.


Good luck with your studies, maybe after the kids are grown I'll find myself at least taking some courses... I have both Boston and Providence local to me, and many choices for culinary programs.


Again, many thanks.  Any experience is more than I have as far as hands-on, so thank you.


post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

BDL, thanks for your reply as well.  As stated in my post, I recognize that it burned the pasta initially, and as in my reply to tasquah, came to the realization that the idea itself was flawed.  The subsequent scorching was the entire bottoms of the loaves, travelling up about a quarter-inch the sides of the loaves.  I had used the pasta as an emergency substitute for the corn meal.  Not sure where, but I definitely heard of doing that.  Someone had emptied the container without replacing it.  Again, I say, bad on me for not putting everything together before starting.  


Question: wouldn't the dough, after shaping and the final rest, stick even to parchment without a lube of sorts?  and if you mean to put the bread in while on the parchment, wouldn't the parchment burn at such high temp for that duration?  I've certainly singed the edges of parchment before.  


As far as French or Not French, I do understand this recipe is not truly (well, not at all,) French in classical terms.  This project *started* as trying to replicate Julia Child's recipe and technique.  I botched the dough twice (I think the yeast died during the final rest) and with a total of up to 10 hours of rising/resting in 3 separate times, By that time, I had committed to serving up my home-made quahog chowder in home-made boules.  Ingredients were purchased and the menu was set in stone.  I figured I'd give the mix-rest-knead-rise-shape-rise-shape-rest-bake traditional two-day-production style a bit of a break, committing to try again after I'd actually successfully baked a loaf or two in something other than a bread machine.  


My apologies for the misleading headline.  I was thinking "French looking & feeling" [Boules, baguettes & batardes] or "French texture/crust&crumb" rather than "French Technique".  Definitely not classically trained here.  Actually not trained at all hands on.  Just trying to replicate what I see on tv/dvd's.  Sort of online learning without paying tuition, I guess.  Some day I will be.  No reason not to be with both Boston and Providence within an easy daily commute.  For now, and until the kids are grown and out of the house, I just enjoy trying things out & feeding my family well.  No McD or packaged foods here.  I'm a recipe cook at the outset, venturing & modifying once I've satisfied myself that I can at least make it as intended.  By no means a Chef in that sense.


Thanks again,



post #6 of 14

In my oven, a small boule or skinny loaf would be done in 15-20 minutes at 450 .  So check in on them a little sooner.  I also agree on not using the very bottom rack.



post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thank you Colin, In hindsight I should not have left them in that extra 5+-, or at least turned the oven off and leave it cracked open.  Or take a temp.  Once I've done this a few times it should become automatic.  Thanks everybody for your responses.  Mixing up 2nd batch today.

post #8 of 14



Sorry for the confusion.  When using parchment on the peel, slide it, parchment and all onto the stone and bake the bread still on the parchment.  Baking is what parchment's for.


Determining whether or not your bread was over-baked shouldn't be much of a problem.  Thick, dark brown crust with lots of chew and no "shatter" means over-baked. Otherwise, probably not over-baked.  A scorched bottom can be an indicator as well, but in your case, the burning seems to have been caused by your choice of pasta. 


Next time, bake your batches with (roughly) same weight loaves; bake your rolls separately.   


If it sounds hollow it's done.  If not, not.  I'm not sure what you mean by dull thud, but suspect you're doing it wrong.  Stop smacking the loaf against the top your head.  Flick your fingers, like an annoying sibling, against the center mass. 



post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks again BDL,


Based on your description of overbaked crust, I think that is what happened.  Just barely though, the crumb was what I had hoped for.  Looks like a combination of that and the pulverized pasta.  My plan for the next batch:  (2) loaves.  one with parchment, the other corn meal,  Once the crust is formed, temp probe in the smaller loaf (keeping them about the same size).  Move rack up one notch from bottom.  How did you know about my headbanging? :)  


Should I be lowering temp after the <crust forming> stage?


Also, why would it be taking (20 minutes and counting) for the active dry yeast to foam?  I have 2 batches going (one from a jar, the other from packets -- well under their expiration) as a failsafe, and both doing the same thing.  Water temp was 107, yeast was room temp.  Has foamed fine in recent past when I was making Syrian (Pita) bread.  nice 1" cap on the top of the cup.  Barely a foam today.  Room temp 68.  Could it be the absence of sugar in this recipe? <that's it, isn't it?  banging head again>




post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

And the verdict is in... it *was* a combination of cooking time and the pasta.  (2) 1# Boules on quarry tile, one position up from bottom, one using corn meal on the pizza peel, the other using parchment.  450 preheated 20 min @ reaching temp.  temp verified with another thermometer.  Both cooked evenly and to the same doneness other than the corn meal one was darker on the bottom (expected).  Misted bread, tiles & sides of oven w/spray water @ start, 2, 4 & 6 minutes. (steam) Crust was hard enough to support temp probe  @ 10 min, reached 207 @ 15 min.  Oven off,  & cracked open.  leave it in for another 5 then cool on rack.


Thanks for all your help,



post #11 of 14

Nice Steve, how about some photos next time. I wouldn't mind seeing your finished loaves.

Trial and error is all part of the process, till you get the hang of it. I find taking photos helps me the next time to replicate it or fix what I did wrong. 

207f is a smidge past what your looking for (maximum temperature that bread can reach inside is 212 F) What that temp is really saying is how much mositure or water is left inside the loaf.

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 

Didn't realize I could post photos, guess I would have if I was more observant.


 First run - "hoagie" type roll     Interior Hoagie

The above are my first run, the 1/2 lb. hoagies/loaves; note darkening running on bottom, up sides.  Bun & Boules were YUM!


Lessons learned: Pulverized pasta is *NOT* a good substitute for corn meal at 450F; Always temp your bread!

                            Stay OFF the bottom rack.



Second run: move rack up, cut time back.


Lessons learned: This particular recipe is a little bit tastier (and the dough less sticky) when dough is left to refrig overnight.

                            Look in the OTHER cabinet, Dear Wife may just have put the corn meal way in back of the wrong cabinet <grrrr>


Lesson to learn:  to better shape boule so it doesn't spread as much.  No worries.  I have plenty more flour and yeast.

                           practice, hungry family & friends make perfect!


Something to try... boeuf bourguignon in boule ?  Will have to think on that one a bit.  

                            Julia's (from MTAoFC) BB is *fantastic* using Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages [2010]

                            Even my ultra-fussy 10.5 son and daughter literally lick their plates.  I usually add

                            fingerling potatoes for a starch, but may drop them if I use the bread.



Best regards and thanks everybody!



post #13 of 14

Good looking crumb on your bread, did you score the bread just before baking it?


If your interested a very good book on baking is "Bread Bakers Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart (actually I'm a fan of every book of his that I have looked at) "Bread" by Jeffery Hamelman is another, if you have access to a public library you can check them out to see if it's something that you would like to buy sometime in the future.

post #14 of 14

The trick to getting bread to hold its shape is pulling a very tight skin when you form the loaf -- it's called "surface tension" -- and is accomplished in the pull-down before formation then carefully maintained during loaf formation.


That said, it's a good idea to start with loaf-pan, then move on to banneton (basket) loaves, rather than free forming miche (aka boules), batards and baguettes.  You did a good job, but your ambitions are outpacing your skills.  Pull those ambitions back a little, so you can develop some touch while enjoying success. 


Yes to Bread Baker's Apprentice, and anything else by Reinhart.  He's by far the biggest influence on my bread baking, but be aware that Reinhart blazes his own trail especially as to retarded rises.  There are lots of other great bread writers. 


If you're serious about bread baking, investigate, then join The Fresh Loaf


The no-knead surprise is that you can get good gluten development and moisture equilibriation without kneading, but you can get it faster with kneading. 



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