French bread a bit too heavy

Discussion in 'Pastries & Baking' started by petercook, Apr 4, 2010.

  1. petercook

    petercook

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    My problem concerns making French bread at home. No matter how much I read about French bread or how many recipes I try my bread is always too heavy.  I must have tried dozens of different recipes. The recipe I am currently working is:
    3 1/2 C. bread flour
    ! 1/4 C warm water (105 F)
    1 3/4 tsp salt
    1 tsp sugar
    2 tsp instant yeast
    I combine, sugar, water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 2 c. flour and mix for 3 min. Cover and let stand 10 min. Add enough flour so that the dough combines and cleans the side of the bowl. Add the salt and knead on medium for about 5 min. Dough is now slapping the side of the bowl. Turn out on a counter lightly dusted with flour. Cover and rest 10 min. Knead by hand until dough is silky smooth and developes small blisters. Lightly oil a bowl and put dough into bowl turning over to coat. Cover and rise until double. When doudled the dough now has many blisters the size of walnuts. Punch down, cover and let rest 20 min. Using a sharp knife cut dough in half. Pull edges of dough down and around to the bottom. Cover and rest 10 min. Gently shape into oblongs. Cover and rest. Using hands begin to roll out into longer and longer loaves. Place loaves in a French bread pan cover until doubled. Meanwhile preheat oven to 425  F. Put heavy fry pan on bottom of oven. When loaves are doubled slash with a sharp razor. Pour one cup of boiling water into fry pan. Bake at 425 F for 10 min. reduce heat to 375 and bake for about 20-25 min more or until a golden brown.
     Internal temp of loaves is now 205 F. Remove to a wire rack and cool for I hr until eating. 
    No matter what I do  I end up with loaves that are too heavy and while they look right and taste good they are no at all the loaves that I remember from New Orleans with a thin brittle crust and a soft interior filled with large holes. What in the world am I doing wrong? Please help.
     
  2. cakeface

    cakeface

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    your recipe seems ok-I use grams but did a rough conversion and it seems all right.

    I have made baguettes for many years and I think the problem lies with your method.

    Base temperature is important i.e. - temp of room + temp flour + temp water = 56 celcius. If you have a thermometer, take the temperature of the room and the flour, add these together and take away from 56 (celcius). The answer you get will be the temperature that your water should be at.

    try this method:
      
      with a dough hook, mix all ingredients in a mixer for 5 minutes on low speed (you can hold back about 50g of water-if you think you will need it, add it)

      after 5 minutes, increase to 2nd speed/ medium speed for an additional 7 minutes.
      
    remove dough from bowl and place on floured lightly surface, dust top of dough with flour and cover lighlty with plastic sheet.
     
    after 45 minutes or so. weigh and cut your dough. 

    leave rest 15 minutes before  shaping
     
    shape and leave in tray/tapis, lighlty cover with flour, cover with plastic sheet and leave to rise 
     
    Have pan of water in the oven in advance so that when you place your bread  inside, it is already steaming.  The steam helps develop a beautiful crust.
     
    slash bread just before putting in oven. (your oven temps seem ok) 

    for dough of 350g,  20 to 25 minutes  should be enough time.  Your bread should 'sing' when you take it out of the oven. (you will hear a crackle noise)
     
    good luck
     
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  3. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    More water is needed, around 1/2C for 3 1/2C flour.
     
  4. petercook

    petercook

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    Thank you for the reply. I tried lowering  the water temp and it did yield a better taste but the loaves are still too heavy. I'm beginning to think that the problem is in my handling  of the dough after it has risen the first time. When punching down do I want to pop all of the big bubbles? They sure are hard to work with when forming into loaves. Some recipes say to NOT pop the big bubbles. Some say thats ok.
     
  5. cakeface

    cakeface

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    But did you try changing your method?

    There is a lot of starting and stopping involved in your method and it could be contributing to the problem.

    when you are shaping the dough, you flatten the dough with the heel or your hand- flattening out any bubbles, this, among other things, gives the bread its uniform shape, you don't want big blisters deforming the appearance of your bread.
     
  6. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Hi Peter,

    By and large your first post reads like "How to Bake Bread the Right Way," and I've been scratching my head ever since you put it up. 

    Based on your recipe, it seems to me that your dough is properly hydrated -- if a bit on the high side -- for a baguette. 

    When using a machine as a mixer, its power can put together a dough that wouldn't come together easily by hand.  It cuts you off from your first two metrics -- "touch" and time.  That said, obviously you can use a machine -- but you want to have a pretty good idea of where you're going.  

    Regular artisanal loaf French bread is usually hydrated to around 65%, while baguettes are made slacker, usually in the 70 - 75% range.  The way to get a rough calculus is to assume each cup of flour weighs 4.5 oz and each ounce of water weighs (you'll never guess) an ounce.   The weight of flour is defined as 100%, and the weight of the other ingredients are calculated comparatively.

    3-1/2 cups of flour = 13.5 ounces.  1-1/4 cups water =10 oz.  10 / 13.5  =   74%. 

    It's possible that with this recipe in particular the amount of hydration may be holding you back, but since you say that you've tried a bunch of recipes and always have the density problem it doesn't seem likely that's number one on hit parade.

    Also, in your description of kneading you haven't described sticking as a problem -- so I think you've got a handle on working a fairly slack dough. 

    Also, props to Cakeface who is no doubt twice the baker I am, but as long as you're gettng appropriate volume of rise within a reasonable time your proofing temperatures or the little stops and starts in your technique probably aren't at issue.  Commercial baking is a different proposition which demands a lot of loaf to loaf consistency throughout the process.  But home baking is more about consistent excellence.  It doesn't matter if one batch took longer or tastes slightly different, as long as they're good.

    Okay.  So much for what's (probably) not going on.

    You brought up handling in general and your punch down technique in particular.  That's the first thing with which to muck about.  

    What you want to do with deflation -- whether at punch down or formatin -- is to collapse all the bubbles, and expel all of the carbon dioxide.  Just as important is what you don't want to do, and that's crush the bubbles.  You want as many as possible so that when the dough is baked into bread, they'll swell as the hot air expands, creating an open texture.  

    The trend is to deflate using a technique called "French fold," (a variation of "letter folding") between proofs. 

    After the rise(s) remove your dough from the bowl, hold it by an edge a few inches over the board, and let the dough's weight stretch it.  Shuffle your hands along the edge so the dough is stretched evenly.  Lay it on the board and stretch it into a square. 

    Next, fold it like a letter as follows:  Fold one side over at the 1/3 point, so 2/3 of the dough is covered.  Fold the remaining 1/3 over.   Then turn the long narrow rectangle of dough 90* (this is the French part), and do the same thing.  That is, 1/3 over to cover the middle 1/3, then the remaining 1/3 over that.  You end up with a (roughly) cube shape hunk of dough.  Then, back in the bowl and proof. 

    Notice the feel of weight to the dough as you work it.  If you fold properly, the dough will continue to feel light and airy as you work it.  If it starts to feel heavy, that's a sign that you may be working it too much.

    You've described the "pull down" technique as your first step in formation.  It may not be the only good way to go about it, but it's a good way and my way too. Again, you want to be careful that you don't crush the dough.  And again, you want to retain a "light" feeling as you handle the dough.

    With pull down you want to get a lot of "surface tension" on the skin of the dough.  That's what helps the loaf hold its shape as it bakes and rise up rather than flatten out.  If you're not getting a tight skin, that's part of your problem.  Learning to get a tight skin is one of the hardest things for most people to learn.

    Your formation technique -- pat into oblongs -- is very gentle.  There are more efficient ways to do it, but as long as you maintain the tight skin throughout formation you're jake.  If the skin of your loaves if flaccid, that's at least part of your problem.

    After your loaves are formed you don't want to proof to a full doubling.  You want to go about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way in order to encourage "oven spring."  

    Sorry to be so prolix but it's a lot of ground to cover,  Lots to think about.  Let me know if any of this resonates.

    BDL 
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2010
  7. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    Allow the dough to rise for about an hour.  Then, DON'T PUNCH DOWN AND DESTROY BUBBLES.  Nope, just do what's called a french fold followed by resting period of about 30-40 minutes at room temp.  Repeat the combined f.f. and rest period two or three more times before final proofing.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2010
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  8. petercook

    petercook

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    Wow! Thanks for all the great tips. I can't wait to try all the new ideas. Cakeface, your discussion of "base temps" has got me thinking in a whole new direction. Is this a new concept? In the literally dozens of baking books I've read  no author has mentioned "base temps". In my first try, I obtained a noticibly better taste. Loaves still a bit too heavy though. In order to fit within your max total temp  of 56 C.I chill the flour in the ref as the room temp is 27 C (tropical island climate).  Because of the great tips, I feel that I am now on the right track again. What a wonderful journey (though at times frustrating) in my quest for the perfect french bread.
     
  9. cakeface

    cakeface

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    27C  ! - My God, its like being in a proofing cabinet! 

    Base temperature is not a new concept, it is really important, especially in commercial kitchens where, as BDL said, consistency is of the upmost importance.

    As you have seen, your room temperature is high, so base temperature would be an important factor when making bread in those conditions.

    There are alot of baking books out there but few will mention base temperatures.  In my opinion most of these books are geared towards instant results-the methods and recipes are over simplified and rushed.  And I must admit, in my previous answer to you-I over simplified matters by giving you standard proof times, but these too depend on temperature. (but the above times should be ok for your conditions-give or take) 

    But so much of bread making comes from experience - the look and feel of the dough-it can be difficult to describe in words-or even pictures, so it can be tempting to give a simplified method.

    I was wondering if your flour is contributing to the heavy results.  I was showing a friend in Spain how to make bread- he had already decanted the flour into a drum, but he assured me i was strong flour- I don't know if i truly was but the results were as you describe-good but with a heavy texture-totally different from how it should have been. Maybe play aound with other strong flours on the market- (in commercial kitchens we use T65  or T55- this is a French classification)

    (By the way-just to make things more complicated-base temperatures are different for different breads)
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2010
  10. gerdosh

    gerdosh

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    This is a great help, particularly cakeface's description; I had similar problems with French breads and next time I am going to follow your method to the dot. My French breads are very good but not French breads: not really heavy but not light and chewy enough.
    George (Author of What Recipes Don't Tell You)
     
  11. gerdosh

    gerdosh

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    56 deg C seems awfully warm. Please reconfirm this number, Cakeface.
     
  12. cakeface

    cakeface

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    hi Gerdosh. 

    56 seems high because the it is the addition of the three temperatures-this does not mean that when you put your ingredients together that the finall dough temperature will be 56C-it is just a means of working out the ideal water temperature.  Different doughs have different base temperature- rye for example is 65C.

    After mixing, you will probably find that your dough temperature is in the range of between  25-27C (this is called dough temperature) .

    very glad you found my previous post useful, if you have any other questions, let me know
     
  13. petercook

    petercook

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    Hello boar-dlaze, cakeface and kokopuffs,

    Well, a lot to digest and discuss. First, yes the kitchen is quite warm as I now live in the Philippines. I try to do my baking after sunset but many nights are still sweltering. Anyway, I tried using the French fold and I Iike it. I can stretch the dough out to at least a 20"  circle and get a giant "window-pane. Does that sound right? I am, however, unclear on how long the folded "cube" must rest/proof or how many times I must do the French fold process. If I did this complete process 3 or 4  times, that woud add several hours to my bread-making. Can that be right? Also, I tried this french fold last night but my loaf forming tehnique must be wrong because I ended up with a poorly formed loaf that was full of huge blisters. The finished loaf tasted delicious but , my God, it was an ugly looking loaf. HaHaHa. BOAR-D-LAZE, could you please expand on what you mentioned as "more efficient ways to form a loaf".  Last night I thought that eveything was going fine up through the french fold, the cutting in half, and the pull down technique with a very taut skin. BUT, when I went to form the loaves that's when the trouble began. BUBBLES GALORE ( sounds like a Las Vegas dancer). Not knowing what to do with all those bubbles I ended up being rather rough with the dough and finally got two raggedly looking loaves into the french bread pan. As I said tasted great but looked ugly.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2010
  14. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    Peter, visit a website called The Fresh Loaf.  The ff involved stretching the dough slightly into a rectangle and folding it in thirds both ways.  In my eyes my 6C loaf requires 1 hour of work spread out over 5 or 6 hours total.  And that amount of time includes 3 or 4 french folds with appropriate rest periods in between.  One shouldn't rush bread making and baking.
     
  15. cakeface

    cakeface

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    Hi Bubbles Galore,

    I  think you are still using your original method - this is a more complicated method than the 'direct method'  that I gave in my post.  Your method is  more usually seen when using a 'natural starter' - rather than all yeast.  It can require several folds / knock backs / punching down  instead of one or none.

    folding gives the bread 'strength' and rejuvenates the dough, (you don't want to over do it either-it can make the dough hard to handle)

    Because with this  method very little yeast is required, you may have too much yeast in your recipe and this may be producing the excess 'bubbles'.  But as you seem to be almost on your way to conquering this method, I would suggest first trying the following  before adjusting the recipe:

    Giving the bread one fold-making sure you left no air pockets.  The standard is to now leave the dough for half the time of the first rising (since your room temp is so hot- you will have to gauge this yourself).

    Now you can cut and scale the bread.   Gently give a  fold to each of the individual pieces of bread. Cover with plastic sheet.

    Leave the bread rest 15-20 minutes.

    Now you can shape your dough (try shape one first-if it is hard to shape, leave the dough another 10 minutes or so)

    This technique should help minimise the problem with the bubbles. Each method produces a different look and feel.  The very nature of this method is to produce a more flavoursome, rustic loaf.

    These are just suggestions, and if they don't work -we can try adapt them.
     
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2010
  16. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    I'm afraid you're getting a lot of information that's coming so fast it's confusing and somewhat contradictory.  You may want to listen to one of us at a time. 

    For an overview of a more efficient way to form a loaf, read this.  The piece is written about batards rather than baguettes going into a French pan, but the process is similar. 

    Remember, you want a very tight skin (lots of "surface tension") on the formed loaf.  In your case, you want to form your loaves in one step rather than breaking it into two with a 10 minute rest in between.  (A good thing my friend, as your technique is already broken up into too many steps with too many rests.)  If you end up with a seam, just pinch it shut the best you can -- eventually it will end up on the bottom.   

    With his multiple French folds, kokopuffs is referring to a technique called "autolysis."  As a practical matter, "autolysis" means allowing the dough to resting the dough after mixing so it hydrates evenly.  Autolysis comes before kneading, and if done in multiples as kokopuffs suggests, is usually used to make very slack doughs feel stiffer and easier to knead. In your case, since you don't seem to have any trouble kneading, the 10 minute rest between mixing and kneading may be all the autolysis you need.   

    Sometimes multiple autolysis periods with French folds in between is done instead of kneading.  I believe that's kokopuff's preferred technique, but it is not one I favor because kneading adds to "chew."   

    Just to be clear, I recommended the French fold instead of a "punch down" after the first proof (following kneading), as a way of preserving the bubble structure in the dough so it eventually bakes light and airy.   

    Unlike cakeface, I recommend three rises.  The first comes after kneading, followed by a second before formation, and a third after formation.  Ideally, the third should be "retarded" -- that is done over night in the refrigerator -- but that's not absolutely necessary.  The multiple rise technique develops better flavor, a retarded third rise does even more.  

    You've mentioned "blisters."  If you mean you're getting a substantial hole directly under the top crust -- it's a condition commonly called "flying crust."  It comes about as a result of the top of the loaf rising differently than the bottom during proofing -- which is then exacerbated during the bake.   The best solution for baguettes is to set the loaf upside down for most of the proofing period between formation and baking, then turn it over, and let it proof for 10 minutes more so before it goes into the oven.   If you do have a seam as a result of formation, that means starting the proof seam side up, and finishing seam down.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2010
  17. petercook

    petercook

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    Hi Boar-d-laze,
    You sure are right! I'm getting a bit confused by all the new concepts. (New to me) An update: 1st, I recalibrated my hydration %. I now use  3.25 C. flour and 1.25 C. water (3.35 C x 4.5 oz/ C = 14.62 oz; 1.25 C water = 10 oz )  10/14.62 = 68% hydration, which, as you pointed out falls between a french bread at 65% and a baguette at 72%.  2nd, baking a batch every day is giving me  a greater "feel" for all of the steps. I believe that my mixing and kneading technique is spot on now. My rational for saying this is that after I finish off by hand kneading the dough is as soft and smooth a a babys skin, it passes the window-pane test and when I poke two floured fingers into the dough the dough pops right back ( actually about 90% back) and after the 1st proof I have HUGE blisters on the dough and if I had not developed glutten properly I would not have blisters. Does that ring true to you?  3rd. when I spoke about having a problem with blisters I was refering to the "FORMING STAGE"  This, I truly believe, is my great failing and the cause of my too heavy bread. I just completed a new batch an hour ago and everything was going fine. I had developed a nice tight skin in the rounding stage and I covered them with plastic wrap for 20 min. As soon as I touched the rounded dough I could see many blisters and feel them deep within the dough. When I tried to form the dough the blisters just moved around inside. The dough is extremely elastic and quite resistant to forming. This forced me to be more agressive with the dough and oops there goes my nice tight skin. Also, the light airyness/puffiness is now gone. Some say that it is ok to press down with a fist and deflate all those bubbles/blisters but I have never had any luck with that method. In spite of my failures I remain confident that I am very close to my goal.  Thank you for all your detailed advice.
     
  18. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    My goal for the 3 ff's is to 'tighten' the dough (think: surface tension) and not to achieve some sort of 'chewy' quality.  On the contrary I'd like getting a loaf more tender than what I'm currently achieving.

    Here's my procedure:
    1. Make poolish
    2. After 6-9 hours, mix in remaining ingredients
    3. Optional Autolyse for 30-40 minutes
    4. Knead half a dozen times by lifting and flipping/rolling the dough over and onto itself
    5. Initial rise: allow to rise for 1 hour
    6. FF and rest period for 30-40 minutes
    7. Repeat step 6 two or three more times
    8. Roll into a boule (using the forearms) and allow to rest 10-20 minutes
    9. Final shape and final rise (for 20-50 minutes)
    10. Oven bake
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2010
  19. petercook

    petercook

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    In the past, I have tried: sponges, biga's, and poolishes. While thay absolutely contribute to final flavor, they do not seem to have any impact on the lightness of a loaf (at least in my experiance).  For that reason and to avoid unnecessary complications, in what is already a very complicated topic, I have avoided mentioning any of the pre-ferments. Speaking of final flavor, retarding the dough, at any point, but especially during the 1st rise, yields a dramatically more flavorful loaf.
    By way of clarification, when I said that my French bread is a bit too heavy I did NOT mean that it is like a brick. Far from it. Most people find my loaves to be quite enjoyable. But I am going for a unique loaf; a special loaf. I want a loaf that is light and airy, filled with air pockets of different sizes ,has an open crumb, has an ever so slight moist interior, and has a crust which is thin and brittle that "shatters" when cut or bitten into. Those of you who have traveled to New Orleans and had their French bread or eaten a guine New Orleans Po' Boy sandwich know exactly what I am going for. One last note on flavor. I also want that "honest" bread with BIG FLAVOR that used to be common 40 or 50 years ago. But for now I am concentrating on lightness. Once that is obtained I believe that I know how to get super flavor.
    One final note for today. Having read dozens of cookbooks on baking I have noticed a wide variation in baking temps and time, from a high of 525 degrees F. to a low of 375 F. James Beard actually called for placing the loaves into a COLD OVEN and then turning the heat on. Times vary from 16 min to as long as 50 minutes. Naturally, the longer time are for the lower temps. But it sure seems strange that there is such a varience and still be called French bread.
    I will pick up this thread again when I come back from vacation. Thanks all.
    .
     
  20. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    A lighter loaf is easily achieved using all purpose flour that's lower in protein than 'bread' flour.  AP = 11.7% protein give or take whereas Bread Flour = 12.5% - 12.7% protein.