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Nov 23, 2011 06:43 PM

French Bread Crust Goes Soft. Help!

I've been using Julia Childs' recipe for French baguettes and baking the dough in a French baguette pan. When I take the baked loaves out of the oven, they are always "hollow" sounding and the crust is nice and crispy. But once they are cooled, the crust goes soft on me and loses that ideal crunchy crust.

If I reheat the loaves in the oven for about 10 minutes just before serving, the crust is once again crispy, and the interior is still moist and flavorful.

Is this normal? Or am I doing something wrong? I'm happy to eat the bread hot and crisp, but I'm wondering if I should be doing something differently to get that crispy, room-temperature baguette like from a boulangerie.

Thanks for any help or tips.

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  1. There's basically two potential culprits here, one of which is easier to address.

    1. Hydration

    From looking at Julia's recipe, it appears that it has a hydration of around 72%. For bread flour that's not too extreme, but for all purpose, with it's lower absorption value, it's pretty wet. When you take wet doughs and bake them in relatively hot ovens, their exteriors dry out and get nice and crunchy, but the interior will have a tendency to be moist. As the bread cools, this moisture will migrate outwards, causing the crunchy exterior to go soft. There's three areas where you can control the quantity of this 'free water' in the finished crumb:

    a. Use a higher protein flour. If, say, you live in the South of the U.S. and are using an all purpose flour that's geared more to pastry/biscuits, then you might want to blend it with some stronger bread flour.

    b. Use less water

    c. Bake for a longer time at a lower temp.

    2. Steam

    Brushing dough with water prior to baking is not the same thing as the steam used in boulangerie ovens. Steam plays a big role in achieving the crispy room-temperature baguette exterior. I have yet to see a definitive technique for creating steam oven results in a home oven, but there are plenty of approaches. Most approaches seem to suffer from one fatal flaw, though- not enough steam is generated.

    2 Replies
    1. re: scott123

      Thanks, Scott. I'm in Atlanta and have been using AP flour. I'll give your bread flour suggestion a try and see if that helps. Appreciate the input!

      1. re: scott123

        RLB suggests placing a sheet pan on the floor (or bottom element of the oven) and tossing a handful of ice cubes on it when you put the bread in the oven. Obviously not awesome, but it delays some of the steam making a little.