French bread flattens when baking

3
10
Joined Jan 11, 2010
I'm good at working with yeast and baking bread. However, when it comes to French bread, I fail.

My French dough rises well in the bowl. But when shaped into a loaf and baked, it always spreads outward instead of upwards. The result is a flat, dense loaf. Tastes good. But doesn't look so good.

Any suggestions?
 
3
10
Joined Jan 11, 2010
Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour and Red Star active dry yeast, the kind in the 3-pack individuals.
 
6,367
128
Joined Feb 1, 2007
For some reason this thread appears twice. Here's the answer I gave to you yesterday, on the other thread:


Chances are you're not creating enough surface tension when shaping the loaf.

Start by forming the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third upwards, as if you were folding a letter. Degassing as little as possible, seal that edge. Then bring the top third down. Using the edge of your hand, seal that edge by pulling down on the dough and folding it under. I like to stretch it enough so the seam is centered on the bottom.

Basically, you're creating a sort of skin.

Then bake your normal way.

With the proper amount of surface tension the bread will rise up more than spread outwards.
 
8,550
207
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Anything's possible, I suppose. But fallen, freehand loaves are usually the result of bad loaf formation, and the most common formation "error" is, as KY said, usually not enough "surface tension."

The technique KY described, is a "French fold," which I do use between proofs, as a way to degas lightly and retain, but not to create, surface tension. I'm not saying it wouldn't work that way, though. I hope you'll bake enough bread to try the fold and other methods as well to find the way which works best for you.

What I do is called "pulling down" or sometimes "pulling into the center." It's really a gentle form of kneading. You do it by holding a round of dough in one hand (your left, if you're a righty and vice versa), and using the palm of your other hand to stretch some of the dough, starting at the top of the round, around one "side" and into the bottom; and as you stretch the dough, the fingers of the hand pulling the dough will naturally help tuck the dough into the bottom of the round; then you repeat until you've gone all the way around the round a few times, pulling the dough from the top to the bottom, and pushing it into the center. You can see the dough on the surface of the ball visibly stretch tighter and tighter as you work.

Just KY mentioned when he described the French fold, it is key to retain as much air in the dough as possible.

Anyway, once the dough is stretched very tight, you can set it on the board and pat it into a sort of brick shaped thing; close the bottom seam by pinching and sealing; fold into a batard, or gently shape it into a baguette; close any seams; proof; and slash. Or, just squeeze the bottom seam shut; proof it in a banneton; turn out; and slash.

Basic French and Italian bread -- flour, yeast, salt and water -- despite the simplicity of the ingredient list (or perhaps because of it), is one of the hardest loaves to get right.

BDL
 
4,376
89
Joined Aug 4, 2000
Yeah, surface tension is what it's all about and one of the most difficult aspects of breadmaking for me to achieve. Just prior to the final batard formation to be placed in my 18" brotform, I place the dough upside down on the tabletop and pull the 'sides' toward the center. To make a boule, the dough is turned over with the bottom setting against the table's surface. The spherically shaped dough is then gently 'rolled' around 'tween both hands in order to create more surfact tension and I need more practise at this execution in spite of having made 200 or so loaves of bread already in my lifetime.

So don't let mistakes discourage you. Even if the loaf is flat, you could call it a 'ciabatta' as long as it has a good crumb and your guests won't notice the difference that's due to the lack of surface tension. ;)
 
6,367
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Joined Feb 1, 2007
Maybe it's my hands, BDL. I use your described method when making boules and such. But when I go to reshape the ball into a batard or baguette I seem to lose the skin. So for me, pulling down a folded dough works better on elongated shapes.

I don't think the precise method is as important as the end goal, however. Creating the surface tension is the important part.
 
8,550
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Joined Feb 13, 2008
KY,

Makes sense. I'll try it, and -- even if doesn't works as well for me -- when and if I write an essay on general formation technique, I'll include it as an alternative. Total agreement on the "first principles" thing of getting surface tension is more important than how you get it.

All already chalked up as more reasons to respect you mo bettah.

BDL
 
4,376
89
Joined Aug 4, 2000
The next strategy for breadmaking is to reduce hydration by 1/4C water BUT allow the dough to hydrate (i.e. autolyse) longer to see what changes result from that modification.
 

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