Brazilian cuisine is a reflection of the country’s multicultural population. Depending on the region, eating habits have been shaped by indigenous, European, African or Creole influences. But different as culinary tastes may be among the 212 million inhabitants, there is surprising agreement when it comes to a particular bakery product: Brazilians love pão francês — a light-colored, yeast-raised wheat roll characterized by a tender, flaky crust and a fluffy crumb.

These cylindrical rolls are a central feature of meals, especially breakfast. Most Brazilians start the day with cafézino, a strong, sweet espresso, and a crispy pão francês that they spread just with butter or margarine. Those who prefer a more substantial meal fry the halved rolls in a pan with butter to make “pão na chapa.”

For midday lunch, the roll is served with soups, stews or salads. And in the evening, with a circle of friends in a restaurant, the Brazilians like to dip into the breadbasket and soak up the sauces from the lavish meat and fish dishes with pão francês.

Most important sales driver

Because freshness has top priority in the purchase of rolls, private households and restaurant owners mostly buy what they need from a total of some 64,000 small- and medium-sized artisan bakeries that are a familiar part of the street scene in Brazil. For these businesses, pão francês is generally the main sales driver and the most important item in their product range.

Customers’ expectations in respect of their favorite rolls are clearly defined: the pão francês must have a light, fluffy crumb, a tender, flaky, wafer-thin crust with a pale brown color, a mild taste and a wide split. The weight is between 50 and 60 grams.

Since the cylindrical rolls are baked close together in the oven, their ends meet as the dough rises. After cooling, these “snakes” of bread are broken apart at the joints to reveal the white, fine-textured crumb. This specific appearance is another feature consumers expect.

Quality reference for pão francês

Many bakeries advertise their French bread as the hallmark of their trade. Nevertheless, problems with quality and standardization often occur, sometimes because of a shortage of qualified workers.

To offer the industry practical help in improving its production methods, the Brazilian standardization committee ABNT (Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas) has developed recommendations for the production of pão francês. Since 2013, the technical standard “ABNT NBR 16170” has specified criteria for evaluating and classifying French bread. Shape, size, properties of the crust, color, crumb structure, shred, odor, flavor… every detail of a perfect pão francês is described precisely in these guidelines. Although the standard is not binding, the initiators hope it will help to ensure that “French rolls” are of uniform, defined quality in all corners of the country.

Polysorbate as an emulsifier

If the rolls are to be light and fluffy inside and have a thin, crisp crust, the flour used must guarantee suitable baking performance. To reconcile quality with economy in the grinding process, the mills generally combine cheaper domestic wheat lots with higher-performance imported wheat. In the past it was the Mercosur countries Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay that played the most important role, but countries like Russia, Ukraine and other Black Sea countries also have become established trading partners.

To standardize flours made up of very different wheat varieties and regions of origin, it is established practice in Brazil to treat the flour with enzymes and additives. The products used include oxidizing agents, amylases, xylanases, hemicellulases and emulsifying additives like DATEM and SSL. A peculiarity of Brazilian food law is the approval of polysorbate, a high-performance emulsifier that has a particularly strong effect on the gas retention capacity and stability of a dough. The additive azodicarbonamide (ADA) is also a much-used improver in Brazil. However, in comparison with other South American countries that permit a dosage of up to 45 ppm, the maximum quantity allowed in Brazil is lower, at 40 ppm.

Ensuring firm doughs

Besides a suitable flour, the making-up process for the dough is an important factor for the quality of pão francês. Even at the smallest artisan bakeries it is usual to have a special mechanical roll shaper to replace laborious manual rounding and molding.

After mixing and kneading, the dough is left to ferment only for a short time before processing continues mechanically. On a feeder conveyor belt, the dough pieces are pressed automatically and pass through various roller systems with decreasing gap widths. This results in thin, portioned sheets of dough that are rolled up tightly by several deflectors.

The bakers only have to intervene to give the rolled dough portions a finishing touch to their appearance. The loaded proofing trays are then placed in the proofing chamber at a temperature of about 30°C and a relative humidity of 80%.

The “French mini-loaves” are baked for about 20 minutes at 200°C to 220°C after being scored lengthwise to create the split.

Increasing expectations

For many Brazilian consumers, the price and freshness of the rolls are still the most important criteria for buying. But generally speaking, the bakeries are noticing increasing expectations on the part of their customers. Fewer consumers are willing to tolerate fluctuations in appearance or taste. On the contrary, there is a demand for high and consistent product quality. Since it is sometimes only necessary to make small adjustments to the recipe or production method to enhance the appearance and sensory properties of pão francês, here is an overview of the most common mistakes made in production, with suggestions for avoiding them:

Problem: Low bread volume.

Possible causes: Fermentation time too short; too little yeast; unsuitable flour with too little enzymatic activity.

Solutions: Prolong the fermentation time of the dough; use more yeast; use suitable flour; increase or adjust flour treatment (Alphamalt VC 5000, Alphamalt HCC 2).

Problem: Inadequate shred/bloom.

Possible causes: Fermentation time too long; dough temperature too high; flour too weak; too little enzyme activity.

Solutions: Shorten the fermentation time; use cold water; use more steam in the oven; increase humidity in the fermentation chamber; use more oxidizing agent (OXEM, Elco P-100); add more enzyme improvers (Alphamalt EFX Mega, Alphamalt H 19480).

Problem: Dark crust, soft crumb.

Possible causes: Enzymatic activity too high; oven too hot; baking time too long.

Solutions: Use wheat flour with lower enzymatic activity; add less alpha-amylase (Alphamalt VC 5000) to the flour; set the oven to a lower temperature; shorten the baking time.

Problem: Holes in the crumb.

Possible causes: Flour too weak; doughs too warm; fermentation chamber too warm; too much yeast; mixing and resting times too long.

Solutions: Use stronger flour; use cold water; set a lower temperature in the fermentation chamber; use less yeast, shorten processing times; adjust flour treatment (use Mulgaprime 10, Alphamalt Gloxy TGO, Alphamalt EFX Mega).

Problem: Not enough crispiness.

Possible causes: Dough too firm; flour too weak; baking temperature too low; doughs too dry and bucky; too little enzymatic activity.

Solutions: Use stronger flour; set the oven to a higher temperature; increase the amount of liquid in the recipe; adjust the enzymatic activity (Increase the flour treatment (Alphamalt GA 23750, Deltamalt FN, Mulgaprime 10).

Problem: Pale, white crust.

Possible causes: Fermentation chamber too dry; fermentation time too long; oven temperature too low; baking time too short; too little enzymatic activity.

Solutions: Increase humidity in the fermentation chamber; reduce the fermentation time; set the oven to a higher temperature; prolong the baking time; add more alpha-amylase to the flour (Alphamalt VC 5000, Alphamalt GA 23750, Deltamalt FN).

Problem: Blistered crust.

Possible causes: Flour too weak; incorrect machine setting; fermentation time too long; doughs too soft; fermentation chamber too warm.

Solutions: Use stronger flour; increase the pressure of the dough molding machine; shorten the fermentation time; reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe; reduce the temperature in the fermentation chamber.

A Brazilian product with a hint of France

No Brazilian consumer expects a traditional French baguette when buying pão francês. The misleading name, which means “French bread,” is thought to have originated in the early 20th century, when the upper classes of Brazil took pleasure in visiting far-off destinations in Europe, especially France. Upon their return, the travelers gave their bakers rapturous descriptions of the delicious bread they had enjoyed in Paris. The typical loaves in France at that time were short and cylindrical, with a firm crumb and a golden-brown crust. They were forerunners of the baguette, which did not acquire its characteristic elongated shape until later. Following these descriptions, Brazilian bakers tried to imitate this European speciality. What emerged was a new bakery product in its own right; it was destined to become an unprecedented bestseller, known as “pão de sal” (salt bread), “cacetinho” (stick bread), “pão careca“ (bare bread) or “filão” (snake bread), according to the region.

Sven Mattutat is a product manager with Mühlenchemie. He may be contacted at [email protected].