Crusty French Bread

pic

I love this bread! I have been told by several European travelers that it tastes just like the great bread they loved in Europe. The crust is crisp and crusty, the inside is airy, chewy, and delicious!

 


Dough & Fermenting
flour 2min 12min

4 2/3 - 5 c (23.8 oz) all purpose flour
2 t (.2 oz) gluten

2 t salt
1/2 t diastatic malt powder or brown sugar
1 t instant yeast
2 c minus 2t (15.7 oz) cold water

Combine all ingredients and knead 8-10 minutes.

Check the dough after 5 minutes. It should be takcy. This is the point just after (1)sticky. To test it, touch it firmly with one finger and pull away quickly. Your finger should be clean, but just barely. It should not feel (2)dry or stiff.

If it is sticky add more flour 2 T (.5 oz) at a time. If it is dry and stiff add (3)water 2 T (.5 oz) at a time.

Stretch the dough between your fingers to do the window pane test. It should form a thin gluten window without
(4)
tearing. The dough pictured is done kneading.


30min

Form into a ball and place back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 15-20 min (autolyse). It will not show signs of rising by this point. Knead it by hand for 30 seconds. Reform into a ball and cover with plastic wrap again. Let it rise
(5)
45-90 min.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shaping & Proofing

cut

Gently remove the dough from the bowl. Handle it carefully so the air pockets won't get pushed out. Divide the dough in half. They should weigh 1 lb 4 oz each.

pinch

Lengthwise, fold the bottom third up and the top third down overlapping the bottom third. Using your thumbs press the new bottom fold down sealing it with the rest of the dough. Wrap the ends in and seal them to the bottom as well.

rock

Roll the dough so the seam is on the bottom and gently rock the dough back and forth starting from the middle stretching it to the desired length. Pinch the seam while doing this to have a tight and even skin. If there are large air pockets that rise to the surface gently (6)pop them.


dip

bag  

1/4 cornmeal or semolina

Pour flour, cornmeal, or semolina on the your work surface, dip the bottom of the bread in this and place on an inverted cookie sheet. Repeat the above process with the remaining dough.

 

Cover the cookie sheet with plastic wrap or two plastic grocery bags.
(7)Refrigerate overnight.

 

 

 


Baking

move

 

oven score

1/4 c cornmeal or semolina

The next day remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently place one loaf on a peel dusted with cornmeal or semolina. Place the other loaf on a counter dusted with cornmeal or semolina. Let them sit lightly covered 1-2 hours at room temperature. Check them occasionally to make sure they aren't sticking. If they are place some semonlia or flour on the sticky spot.

 

Prepare the oven. Position the top rack on the second to highest setting. Position the bottom rack to the lowest setting. Remove any other racks. Place the baking stone in the center of the high rack. Place a (8)steam pan on the low rack. Do not use a glass container for this! It will shatter when you pour the water in.
Preheat the oven to 500, (9)20-30 minutes before baking.

Get 1-2 cups of hot water and set it by the oven.
Score each loaf three times in a diagonal direction at a 45 degree angle about 1/2 inch deep.


notstuck

Make sure the loaves are not stuck on the peel. If they are sticking gently lift the loaf and put more semolina, cornmeal, or flour underneath it.

peel

Working quickly, slide one loaf at a time onto the hot stone. One will be in back the other in front. Pour the cup of water into the steam pan. Quickly shut the oven. Set a (10)timer for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Bake 12 minutes more.

turn

Change the back loaf to the front and the front to the back while turning them both 180 degrees. Bake another 10 minutes.


                   done

Check the loaves. They should be a rich brown color, if they are starting to blacken (which they probably aren't) remove from the oven and place on cooling racks. If they are dark brown, turn the oven off and keep the bread in for another (11)5-10 minutes.

cool

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool. The bread will continue to bake while it sits.

slice1

Wait 2 hours before slicing and serving the bread. If you cut into it before it cools it will become gummy and the taste won't be quite right.


sore

Eat the bread the same day it is baked. If you don't you can freeze it. You can slice and freeze or freeze an entire loaf.

Don't refrigerate, it tastes funny and loses it's great texture.

store

Wrap a whole loaf or sliced pieces tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze.

See below for more detail.



 

 


Problems

problem

1. Undermixed - dough: lumpy, fermentation: few air pockets, crust: pale, taste: dense, sticky, and chewy. This was the worst taste of all of them
2. Overmixed - dough: elastic and stringy, fermentation: many air pockets, crust: great, taste: dense and mushy.
3. Too much gluten - dough: great, fermentation: good air pockets, crust: great, taste: good
4. All all-purpose flour - dough: not developed enough, fermentation: good air pockets, crust: great, taste: a bit dense and a little crumbly
5. Perfect - dough: great, fermentation good air pockets, crust: great, taste: airy, elastic, not gummy, not dry, perfect!.
6. Oven too hot - dough and fermentation: same as above, crust: overdone, taste: gummy
7. Oven too cool - dough and fermentation same as above, crust: thin, soft, and pale
8. Made same day - dough and fermentation same as above, crust: crisp but thin, taste: gummy and strange. This loaf baked really strange, it opened too much in some areas and not enough in others. I was surprised to find how much the overnight refrigeration affected the bread.


toomuch

1. Not enough flour - dough: sticky, fermentation: many air pockets, crust: overbrown too quickly, flat, sticky.
2. Too much flour - dough: stiff and dry, fermentation: fair air pockets, crust: didn't open fully, taste: dense.
It is a good indicator that you have too much flour if the score marks stick up high like in loaf #2. The score marks in the picture above this one are almost even with the loaf which is how they should be.


panbreak

Stone vs. Pan
I asked my husband what he thought the difference would be between baking this bread on a hot stone versus a pan that was not preheated. He thought the bottom of the loaf on the stone would bake more quickly, and that the top wouldn't be as done. This would be the logical thing, but just the opposite was true.

Loaf #1
- Stone baked: baked evenly.
Loaf #2 - Pan baked: the loaf split open near the bottom, the bottom burnt, the top was underdone, and the loaf didn't open well (the score marks were not open).


inside

The differences were actually very slight. If they hadn't been compared side to side it would be hard to tell what was wrong with each loaf. The culprits of the four worst loaves were: undermixing (1), low oven temp (7), making it the same day (8), and too much flour (2 in the second picture). The rest tasted good, but were not perfect (except for #5).


The two most common mistakes
When I've had feedback on this recipe. People most often have problems with the following:

1. Too little flour
- This bread most often gets ruined by putting too little flour in the dough. This makes the loaves flat and the bread gummy. Check the flour 5 minutes into kneading. If you check it too early, it will feel tough and seem to have too much flour. It settles in after about 5 minutes, so this is a more accurate time to check it. It should not be sticking to the bowl while kneading, but just barely. If you're going to err in this recipe, err on the side of too much flour. The loaves will still look good and taste better than a flat sticky loaf.

2. Temperature of the dough too warm - The second most common way to ruin it is by the temperature. If the water is too warm the dough rises too fast. If it rises too fast on the counter, it will probably rise too much during the overnight refrigeration. This is a problem because they will most likely deflate when they are transfered, or they will not have enough strength to finish the rise in the oven and will deflate there.
Use very cold water for the dough. A slow rise is desireable. If my house is hot I refrigerate the dough during the autolyse (first 15-20 minutes of the rise). I then check it every 20-30 minutes during the fermenting period (first rise after autolyse).


Crusty French Bread

4 2/3 - 5 c (23.8 oz) all purpose flour
2 t (.2 oz) gluten
2 t salt (.5 oz)
1/2 t diastatic malt powder or brown sugar
1 t instant yeast
2 c minus 2t (15.7 oz) (12)very cold water

1/4 - 1/2 c cornmeal or semolina (for the bottom of the loaves)

1. Combine all ingredients except the cornmeal or semoline. Knead 8-10 minutes.  Check the dough after 5 minutes. It should be takcy. This is the point just after (1)sticky. To test it, touch it firmly with one finger and pull away quickly. Your finger should be clean, but just barely. It should not feel (2)dry or stiff.  If it is sticky add more flour 2 T (.5 oz) at a time. If it is dry and stiff add (3)water 2 T (.5 oz) at a time.  Stretch the dough between your fingers to do the window pane test. It should form a thin gluten window without (4)tearing. The dough pictured is done kneading.  Form into a ball and place back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

2. Let it sit for 15-20 min (autolyse). It will not show signs of rising by this point. Knead it by hand for 30 seconds. Reform into a ball and cover with plastic wrap again. Let it rise (5)45-90 min.

3. Gently remove the dough from the bowl. Handle it carefully so the air pockets won't get pushed out. Divide the dough in half. They should weigh 1 lb 4 oz each.  Lengthwise, fold the bottom third up and the top third down overlapping the bottom third. Using your thumbs press the new bottom fold down sealing it with the rest of the dough. Wrap the ends in and seal them to the bottom as well.  Roll the dough so the seam is on the bottom and gently rock the dough back and forth starting from the middle stretching it to the desired length. Pinch the seam while doing this to have a tight and even skin. If there are large air pockets that rise to the surface gently (6)pop them.  Pour flour, cornmeal, or semolina on the your work surface, dip the bottom of the bread in this and place on an inverted cookie sheet. Repeat the above process with the remaining dough.  Cover the cookie sheet with plastic wrap or two plastic grocery bags.  (7)Refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently place one loaf on a peel dusted with cornmeal or semolina. Place the other loaf on a counter dusted with cornmeal or semolina. Let them sit lightly covered 1-2 hours at room temperature. Check them occasionally to make sure they aren't sticking. If they are place some semonlia or flour on the sticky spot.

5. Prepare the oven. Position the top rack on the second to highest setting. Position the bottom rack to the lowest setting. Remove any other racks. Place the baking stone in the center of the high rack. Place a (8)steam pan on the low rack. Do not use a glass container for this! It will shatter when you pour the water in. Preheat the oven to 500, (9)20-30 minutes before baking.  Get 1-2 cups of hot water and set it by the oven. 

6. Score each loaf three times in a diagonal direction at a 45 degree angle about 1/2 inch deep.  Make sure the loaves are not stuck on the peel. If they are sticking gently lift the loaf and put more semolina, cornmeal, or flour underneath it.  Working quickly, slide one loaf at a time onto the hot stone. One will be in back the other in front. Pour the cup of water into the steam pan. Quickly shut the oven. Set a (10)timer for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Bake 12 minutes more.  Change the back loaf to the front and the front to the back while turning them both 180 degrees. Bake another 10 minutes. 

7. Check the loaves. They should be a rich brown color, if they are starting to blacken (which they probably aren't) remove from the oven and place on cooling racks. If they are dark brown, turn the oven off and keep the bread in for another (11)5-10 minutes. 

8. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool. The bread will continue to bake while it sits.  Wait two hours before slicing and serving the bread. If you cut into it before it cools it will become gummy and the taste won't be quite right.  Eat the bread the same day it is baked. If you don't you can freeze it. You can slice and freeze or freeze an entire loaf. Don't refrigerate, it tastes funny and loses it's great texture.


Storing and Freezing
Storing - This bread is best eaten the day it's made. After it cools store in a paper sack for the day.

Freezing
Wrap the bread tightly in plastic wrap to freeze. You can slice and freeze it or freeze an uncut loaf.

Thawing slices - Leave covered and let sit at room temperature a few hours until thawed all the way through. If an enitre loaf is sliced and frozen you can crisp the crust in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes as long as the interior isn't exposed.

Quick thawing slices - Place slices of bread in the microwave for 15 seconds. Turn and microwave another 15 seconds or until thawed.

Thawing a whole loaf - Leave covered and let sit at room temperature a few hours until thawed all the way through. Heat oven to 350 and crisp crust for 10 minutes. Let cool 10-20 minutes and slice.

Quick thawing a whole loaf - Place loaf in microwave for one minute. Turn and microwave an additional minute. Heat oven to 350 and crisp crust for 10 minutes. Let cool 10-20 minutes and slice.


Notes

1. Too little flour - If there is not enough flour, the bread will not be able to hold it's shape. It will bake a litle flat, or may deflate completely and be very flat. It will also be a little gummy and sticky.

2. Too much flour - Too much flour of course makes a dry loaf of bread. If you're going to err in this recipe, err on the side of too much flour. The loaves will still look good and taste better than a flat sticky loaf.

3. Adding water - Adding water may take some kneading by hand until it's incorporated or it may splash out of the bowl. It's always eaiser to add more flour than it is to add more water.

4. Tearing or Stretching - If the dough tears before a thin window is formed the gluten is not developed. If it stretches to form a thin window, it is ready.

5. Time of rise - The length of the rise will vary greatly depending on the temperature of the water, dough, and room. The dough should swell a lot, but still have a round shape. It should not be stuck to the sides of the bowl.

6. Air pockets - If air pockets rise to the surface while forming the loaves, gently pop them. If you don't they can get very large during the refrigeration and when you tranfer them, they may pop and deflate the dough completely. If it doesn't pop it still may ruin the loaf by expanding in the oven leaving the loaf with huge air pockets just under the crust.

7. Refrigerating dough - Refrigerating this dough for at least 8 hours is necessary to the structure of both the crust and interior of the bread. See problems for more information on this.

8. Steam Pan - I use a jellyroll pan for a steam pan. It does warp it, but that's all I use it for. I like the large hot surface area it gives the water. It produces a lot of steam very quickly and the rest slowly througout the baking period.

9. Oven heating - It will take most ovens 20-30 minutes before it can reach 500 degrees. It will register much sooner than this, but it often isn't ready. When my oven first registers at 500 it is actually at 300. Ten to twenty minutes later it will actually be at 500. If you put the bread in when the temperature is really at 300, it will ruin the loaves. The color, structure, and crust will be off. An oven thermometer is very helpful for this.

10. Timer - I don't know how many times I haven't turned the timer on for the three minutes thinking I would remember. Before I know it they have been baking at 500 for 10 minutes. I have ruined several loaves this way.

11. Baking time - Breads should be baked as long as they can be without burning. It makes the crust crisper and the inside drier as opposed to gummy.

12. Very cold water - For the structure and taste, this dough needs a slow rise. Kneading makes the temperature of the dough rise, so starting with very cold water is beneficial.


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