I have baked baguettes a few times, the recipe I used was something from the net which might or might not be good. It went like this:
Mix, knead, allow the bread to rise to double size in a cool environment. Bake at 275 C.
Now, the first time I made this, I was surprised how well it went. Pretty decent crust, hard but not burnt, easily done and so forth. I noticed however that after a short while the crust was soft. I stored it in plastic bags.
The second time I did it, which to me was very consistent with my first attempt, the crust was soft from the beginning, even though the bread was approaching a color of brown almost burnt.
What techniques should I know of that can improve the crust? Store bread in paper bags would probably help the crust stay hard, but is there anything else? Am I doing anything completely wrong?
I tried to search the site but I find it is not entirely easy to find what you are looking for.
My knowledge of how to make bread is almost entirely from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which cannot be praised too highly.
To make a crackling crisp bread crust, preheat your oven to as high as it will go with a pizza stone inside and a heat resistant pan capable of holding 8 fl. oz. of water elsewhere on the rack or on another rack (I do mine on the rack below). Shape your baguette on a pizza peel or cookie sheet (not a jelly roll pan with sides) on top of lots of cornmeal. As your oven is close to being done preheating, boil 8 fl. oz. of water (doing this in a tea kettle works well.)
When the oven has preheated slide the baguette or baguettes off of your pizza peel/cookie sheet directly onto your pizza stone. Pour the 8 fl. oz. of boiling water into the pan. Using a spray bottle, mist the sides of your oven with steam. Do all this as quickly as possible to avoid loosing heat.
After 30 seconds, mist the sides again. Repeat once more. Then turn the temperature down to whatever is appropriate.
Not only will this technique promote a great crust, it will also promote oven spring which improves both taste and texture in your bread.
Cool your bread completely (recipes usually call for 30 minutes but up to 2 hours) on a wire rack. This will remove any sensation of doughiness as the cooking process completes. It also keeps the bread from sweating, which is what it was doing in plastic bags. Store in a cool dry place, preferably a brown paper bag.
Crusty breads always need steam to promote crust. Normally you bake the first cycle for 10 minutes with as much humidity as you can possibly get, then for the last 20 minutes or so you want to void all moisture, which will then make a thick, robust crust. Remember, the more hydration the better.
To add to what the others have said about adding steam in to the baking process, which is very important with baguettes.
Baguettes benefit from a decent tray to cook them on, specially made trays are easy enough to obtain, the mesh variety allow steam to get to more sides easily.
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