Saturday, March 1, 2008

French Bread

French Bread
Did I ever mention that I like to procrastinate? I would be a professional procrastinator if I could but I'm sure the pay is pretty crappy. I figured I would have plenty of opportunities to do the Daring Baker challenge but before I knew it, it’s the last week of February! I'll just blame the fact that February is a super short month. The only day I had time to do the challenge was today, which is technically posting day. Eek! Down to the wire here!

As always, we have lovely hostesses who select our secret recipe and this month, the wonderful duo Mary aka Breadchick, writer of The Sour Dough, and Sara of I Like to Cook chose something that I’ve always wanted to make, French bread! And not just any French bread, Julia Child’s French bread, the bread she devoted 18 pages to in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 2. If you’ve read her memoir, My Life in France, you will know just how much of Julia loved to bake and how much time and effort she devoted to that one recipe. She made boulangerie style French bread accessible for the home cook!

The day started off beautifully, it was bright and sunny and my kitchen was 68 degrees, perfect dough rising conditions. After a donut and tea for breakfast, I rolled up my sleeves to tackle the dough making. Nothing like feeling the warm morning sun hit your face and hearing the *slap slap slap* of bread dough hitting the side of the KitchenAid bowl. After the machine did most of the work, I kneaded for a few minutes by hand to feel the dough, making sure to give it a good poke to test its springiness. Then back into the bowl, covered with a towel, for a long 5 hour rise. Who wouldn’t like a warm 5 hour long nap?

Then after the dough tripled in size, I gently shaped it for the second rise of 2 hours. It was beautiful after the second rise. The top was smooth and domed and it was absolutely gorgeous. After reading the instruction on how to form a batard, I was afraid I would mess up because it sounded pretty complicated so I decide to just make one large loaf. Then I gently coaxed the dough out of the bowl again and shaped it into a large loaf. It made some funny hissing noises as some of the gas bubbles popped, which made me giggle. Then after shaping the dough into the loaf, I gently placed it on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for the final nap. It was like my little bread baby, so cute! Then under covers again for the final 2 hour rise.

Finally, I preheated my stone, slashed the loaf with a razor blade, brushed water on the outside, and slid it into the oven.

French Bread
The Results:
After 25 minutes, I checked the internal temperature of the bread with my Thermapen and it was only 160 degrees F. Weird! Either my brand new Thermapen is off or my oven is off. I kept the loaf in the oven for another 5 minutes and took it out because I was afraid of overbaking.

The crust was a beautiful golden brown and shatteringly crisp, it was just gorgeous. Unfortunately, my slashes didn’t serve their purpose, I thought they were deep enough but on the finished loaf, they looked very superficial and they didn’t allow the steam to escape, instead the bread split open near the bottom. Am I suppose to slash a little deeper or should I not have brushed water over them? After cooling for 2 hours, I sliced into it and I was a little disappointed. The crumb was too dense and a little chewy/gummy. Where did I go wrong? I was really careful when I handled the dough but maybe I didn’t let it rise enough the third time. Maybe I should have baked it longer since the crumb was a little gummy, is that because the bread is underbaked and the interior is still too moist? It tasted really good but it was a little yeasty. Did I do something wrong? What should I do differently next time?

All in all, I still give myself a pat on the back for making a pretty decent loaf of French bread. I wish the interior could have been a little airier and fluffier but I’m still happy with how it turned out. I’m really proud of the crust because I’ve never been able to get bread to look that good. The crust was my favorite part, it was so thin and crispy. Yum! Now I can cross French bread off my list but I know this is a recipe I will repeat over and over until I can get it just right.

As for the recipe? Head on over to Mary’s blog for the whole shebang, all 18 pages. Thank you so much Mary and Sara for choosing this wonderful recipe and for taking the time to type up the whole thing! The side notes you gals added were especially helpful!

Recipe here

The recipe is long and the process takes almost all day. I started at around 10 in the morning and finished at 6 or so?

I already ate half my loaf and I bet I’ll finish the other half tomorrow. Here are some idea’s for any leftover bread you may have.

Cover the inside with roasted garlic and butter for roasted garlic bread.

Make sandwiches:
Ham and Butter
Salami, Baby Spinach, and Cream Cheese
Pate and Cornichon

Stale French bread is wonderful on top of French Onion Soup

Make sure to see all the beautiful breads everyone made by heading over to the Daring Baker Blogroll

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