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.
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.
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 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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.