Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Hearth type breads, such as french breads like baguettes (not to be confused with the soft grocery store breads labeled "french bread") have a very different texture. Ideally, a hearth bread will have a blistered crispy crust. The interior will be chewy and may contain large irregular holes.
I struggled for years to make good hearth breads. I still don't have it quite where I want it but in the last few months, I've come far closer to my imagined ideal.
I know that one of the "tricks" is humidity. Commercial bakery ovens inject steam while baking. The moist steamy environment allows the bread to rise quickly without the crust cracking. At the end of the baking period, no steam is used so that the crust dries and caramelizes into a lovely blistered golden color.
Since I don't have a steam injecting oven, I've tried various techniques to imitate the result.
One thing that is often recommended is to bake on an oven stone which is preheated to high heat. At this point, I haven't tried this but some day maybe I can get a baking stone and try it.
To add humidity, I have misted the loaf with water before baking. This helped but not enough.
I also tried placing a pan of hot water under the loaf. I placed my broiler pan in the oven while it preheated. After placing the baking sheet with loaf in the oven, I CAREFULLY poured a cup of water in the boiler pan and shut the oven door. This too helped but I still wasn't pleased.
Some home bakers use a large dutch oven to bake their loaf in to keep humidity around the loaf. I found this heavy and unwieldy to use in the oven. Plus I could only bake a round loaf and the loaf was hard to remove.
This fall I learned of the roasting lid technique from Northwest Sourdough. This method finally gave me the bread result I was wanted.
I already had a large turkey roasting pan lid. You can use a roasting pan lid or pan. I preheat my lid and the baking sheet while the oven preheats. I usually use high heat 450-500 degrees. I place the shaped loaf on a piece of parchment or silicone baking mat to rise. When the oven is preheated, I mist the loaf, add topping ingredient if desired and slash the dough. I then pull the hot baking sheet and roasting pan lid out of the oven. Remember they are hot. Use oven mitts! I speak from experience!
Quickly lift the parchment paper or baking mat and place the bread onto the pan.
Cover with roasting pan lid and slide into the oven. Lower the heat of the oven to the desired baking temperature. The reason to preheat at a higher temperature is because opening the oven door will cause the oven temperature to drop.
Generally you'll bake the bread for 10-15 minutes then remove the roasting pan lid. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning and bake until finished. The roasting pan lid holds the steam right next to the dough. This eliminates the need for adding more steam as it bakes.
This method has resulted in by far my most successful hearth breads. Let me know if you try it and your results!
Coming next - the recipe of a french type hearth bread for you to try this technique!