The crust on my french bread never turns out "crusty" like it does in restaurants, what am I doing wrong?
To promote a crust on a bread (ie. getting it 'crusty'), the bread must be baked in two phases. First, steam must be introduced (and not vented) for about a third of the bake time. Then, you must evacuate the steam and bake the remainder of time dry. This is the trick to making crusty breads. Also critical in the promotion of crust is temperature. You must bake crusty breads at a high temp., at least 400 degrees (which is what I bake my crusty-style breads at).
Also of note, crusty breads tend to be lean doughs, that is one without a high fat content.
The answer provided by mrwienerdog is true, but short on details.
- Heat oven to at least 500 degrees F, ideally with a pizza stone inside. Also inside should be a thick metal pan that can handle having water poured into it. Carefully position shaped, proofed bread on a pizza peel or unrimmed baking pan that is generously dusted with corn meal.
- Heat 1 c. water to near boiling.
- When your oven is heated, open oven and slide bread onto stone (or place the baking pan on the rack if you don't have a stone). Add 1 c. water to the metal pan that you heated in the oven.
- Open the oven after 30 seconds. Mist the sides of your oven (being careful to avoid the glass pane, which may shatter if in contact with cold water when hot). Do this twice more. Then lower your baking temperature to the prescribed temperature.
This amount of water should be the correct amount to promote the critical early steam without steaming your bread for the entire baking time.
As mentioned below, you need to maintain a high temperature and steam the loaf for part of the baking time.
An easy way to get both of these things in a home oven is to use a covered cast-iron or ceramic pot and pre-heat it with the oven. The mass of the cast-iron maintains a consistent temperature, and the cover allows the loaf to steam in its own water.
There is more detail on this method here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html?_r=1
I have a 30" oven and what works for me was to place a small cast iron pan with lava rocks on the lower rack and the stone on the middle rack. Preheat oven to 500F and have 1/4 to 1/3 cup of boiling water ready. Put your loaves on the stone , pour the water over the lava rocks, close the door, turn down to 425F. Bake about 35 to 45 min keeping watch for the degree of color you want.Too much water will result in the loaf having a caramelization of the crust, which looks dark brown and shines. Try venting oven 1/2 way thru cooking and again at 3/4 time if you have a oven with a good seal.