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Choosing the best French bread can be a matter of individual taste, particularly because commercially baked breads sometimes blur the definition of what authentic French bread actually is. In general, French bread that is prepared in the most traditional way will have a more classic taste and texture. Identifying the ingredients used to make the bread can help to determine how the bread was assembled, with chemicals and oils indicating that the bread might be more akin to plain, soft white bread. When shopping for such bread, the crust should feel soft, but still have a good amount of resilience when pressed. A good loaf of bread prepared in the French style should not feel overly heavy or overly light for its size.
The ingredients used to make French bread can help to determine whether it has been made in a traditional style. The most basic type of dough for the bread contains water, flour, salt and a starter or dried yeast. Additional ingredients, such as oil, might sometimes show up but also can make the texture of the bread a little off from classic recipes. If the bread is full of sweeteners, emulsifiers or other ingredients whose purpose is unclear, then it most likely will not have the taste or texture of a classic French loaf, despite its appearance.
Picking up and feeling bread can reveal a good amount about how well a loaf was made. The goal of French bread is to have a thick crust on the outside that is chewy and soft but thick enough to be resilient. Any ridges, lines or baker’s cuts in the top of the loaf should have baked into hard, slightly browned ridges. Bread that is so soft that it can be compressed significantly is not true French bread and should be avoided in a quest for an authentic loaf.
The weight of French bread can be used to determine what it is like on the inside. When made in a traditional way, the inside of the loaf will have many air pockets with a dense web-like pattern of dough in between. This means a good loaf should feel appropriately heavy for its size. If the dough feels too light, then the inside might be overly dry or airy, sometimes as a result of certain commercial leavening methods. Dense, heavy loaves could be very meaty and might have a sticky interior and a strong flour-like taste, which generally is undesirable in French bread.
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