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Chef Tom’s French Bread

A few weeks back I had sent a question in to Chef Tom, the Chef Instructor and Breadman Extraordinaire at Le Cordon Bleu of Chicago.  Well, he also happens to run the “This Week in Food” podcast that I rave so much about.

You see, I’ve been having a lot of issues with yeast risen breads — they’re not my friend at all.  Because I don’t start my classes for another few weeks and I don’t really have any friends who are bakers, I implored Tom to do a video podcast that broke the process down step by step, showing textures, methods and techniques.

He was awesome enough to do just that.

So I took some time last night to try to follow his recipe — as I write this now, my bread is in the oven.  Here’s how I fared.

 Since I don’t need 4 1/2 loaves, I decided to halve his recipe after converting it from Imperial to Metric.

I use dry active yeast, so I took my yeast and hot tap water (which conveniently comes out right around 115F) and tossed it into my mixing bowl to proof whilst I mise en place’d my other ingredients.

I prepped 8 grams of salt which would be reserved for after the dough came together and 454 grams of my bread flour.

Now, the primary issue I’ve had in the past is hydration.  I’d scale correctly, but my doughs would wind up resembling batters rather than properly hydrated doughs.

In those particular instances, I’d wind up working so much more flour into the dough through the kneading process that my precise scaling may have well been me haphazardly mixing the ingredients together without taking any time to properly measure them.

In any case, after 10 minutes, my yeast had sufficiently proofed and I tossed in my ingredients, reserving the salt.

I put my KitchenAid on setting 2 for 4 minutes, allowing the dough to come together and knead a bit.

Once it came together and mixed for a while, I added in the salt.


After four minutes, I stopped the mixer, scraped the dough off of the hook, turned it upside down and let it go another 4 minutes at setting 4 on the mixer to develop the gluten.

Once the dough was done mixing, I split it out into 2 361g portions and tossed it into a bowl to ferment for an hour on the bench.

I stepped out to Kitchen and Company to pick up a silicone bowl scraper and a squirty bottle.  This was followed up by a trip to JoAnne Fabrics to pick up a yard of muslin to use as a couche.

When I returned home, it had been 70 minutes and my dough had risen quite nicely.



I turned the dough out onto the board and began forming batards.

I determined this would be my final shape as I knew I wanted to use the bread for something more along the lines of sopping up marinara, sandwiches and good french toast for the weekend.

I set them in their couche and gave them another 30 minutes or so to rise — as seen here, they look quite nice and ready to bake!

Since I don’t own a peel, I pulled my stone out of the oven and tossed some cornmeal onto it, watching the wisps of smoke rise, carrying the lovely aroma of toasted corn.

I scored the dough and moved the batards onto the stone as quickly as I could before placing the stone back into my oven which was at a balmy 475F.

I dropped the temperature down to 375 and cracked the oven open slightly to spritz in my water, creating steam on the sides and bottom of the oven.

It’s been about 30 minutes since I’ve started with this article.  Let me go check on my bread… :)

Well, it looks a lovely golden brown.

However, I’m a bit concerned.

Looking at the score marks (and the size in general), it didn’t really seem to get much in terms of oven spring.  I’d expect it to be a bit more stretched.

So, trying to reason that out logically, perhaps, in the the forming of the batard, the skin of the dough was too slack?

Additionally, taking the spine of a knife and tapping the crust yielded no give, making me think that the crust is quite thick as well.  Perhaps a symptom of the same issue with not forming the dough tight enough?

I’ll be back in the next paragraph after an hour or so when the bread has fully cooled down.

The bread has cooled to room temperature — I cut into it and here’s the result:

My fear was not unfounded.

You can see here, quite well, near the top of the slice, that the crust has cooked into the crumb.  Now, it’s not dreadful… I’ve managed to make bread that had a crust 1/8″ thick; talk about being hard to chew.

So, I’m thinking it’s one of these three issues:

  1. I didn’t stretch the bread enough in the forming of the batard.  The slack dough didn’t allow for optimal stretch during ovenspring and allowed the crust to overcook.
  2. Oven temperature.  I started the oven ripping hot — I don’t know if it was too hot or if too much heat escaped as I was putting the bread in to bake.
  3. Too much/not enough steam.  I spritzed in a good amount as soon as the bread was in and a bit more again after a couple of minutes had passed.
So, my dear readers, or Chef Tom if you happen to be reading this — any troubleshooting ideas?

In the meantime, it’s still a tender crumb.  I’ll slather a bit of butter on the slice, garnish it with a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel and enjoy the hearty, yeasty aroma just before it hits the palette.

2 comments

1 NWood { 09.20.11 at 3:49 pm }

First off, THANK YOU for your time in putting together these great podcasts. I’ve recently became interested in culinary arts (as a gardener and someone that dabbles in knife making, it was a logical progression). I too have recently been experimenting with making bread, and my results thus far look just like the pictures you provided above.

Some observations on your steps vs. those of chef Tom:
-If I recall correctly, he set his mixer to the first power for 4 min, then on the 2nd power for the remainder.
-After mixing, he allowed the bread to proof before dividing it up.
-He noted that letting the bread sit after divided, even for that short period of time, was important.
-He rolled his loafs out much thinner as you mentioned.

2 Jacob Burton { 12.18.11 at 2:16 am }

When a loaf of bread doesn’t have good oven spring it’s usually because it is either under proofed, or in you case judging from your pictures, over proofed.

But I don’t think the over proofing was really your problem. What caused the loaves to not spring properly and at the same time gave you a thick crust is not enough steam. It’s really hard to generate your steam by just spraying your oven, because relative to the size of your loaves, the oven is huge and the steam has lots of room to move around.

Next time, try spraying the bread directly, and then placing a turkey roasting tin upside down over you loaves to trap in the steam. Remove half way through the baking process and allow to brown.

I like to use french bread or baguette molds when doing this at home, and I’ll place the molds in a hotel pan with a few ice cubes and then cover with foil for the first 15-20 minutes. This will give you direct steam, which will allow for great oven spring and a sublime, crackly crust.

Just as a side note; if you don’t have enough steam in contact with the exterior of the bread, the crust will harden before the loaf can reach its full potential for “oven spring,” giving you a dense loaf with a thick crust.

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