This month the Daring Baker's challenge was Julia Child's French bread. I joined this baking group for one reason- to challenge my baking skills and learn in the process. Well, I sure did both of those things this month. Being not so fond of baking bread (as a result of my numerous less than perfect results) it forced me to dive into one of the most difficult breads of all- French Bread. The recipe was a little overwhelming at first sight- 16 pages, but after reading it a few times I found that it really was not all that complicated (ha-or so I thought). I set out to make my bread last Sunday, everything seemed to be working fine and even my husband who has made plenty of bread in his time helped a little. So we prepared the oven, got it all nice and steamy and put the bread in- The result was a crunchy crusty brick! I had to laugh, because after working on this recipe for most of the day (8 hours), I expected my bread to be gloriously good and what I created was far from it.
I think I may have established this before, but just in case I have not- I am a perfectionist. A French brick just is not going to do, so I started all over again. After trying to figure out the error of my bread making ways, I gathered it was the amount of flour and the time allowed for rising. "One cannot be a slave to the clock in making bread" Julia Child says. But when one has no idea what to look for- that seems like the logical solution and I can tell you, the lady is right- my method did not work so well. The 16 page recipe did explain what to look for- but I must have a yeast impairment (yes, that's my valid excuse).
Batch number two- pictured above was much better, I do realize I do still have a lot to learn though. I changed several things between the two batches. The fist batch was made in the mixer, I have a powerful 450 watt Kitchenaid so I thought it could handle it; the recipe cautioned about mixers overheating and I knew that would not be an issue. But then, I learned this has nothing to do with power, it's all about how the dough feels and I had a hard time figuring that out when it wasn't in my hands. The first baguette was tough, looked anemic and could actually be used as a weapon it was so hard. So for now, I will leave the mixer out of the bread making.
Batch number two I made by hand- much better, I was careful with the flour additions (paranoid to be exact) and allowed the dough to rise for a much longer period of time. The bread is far from perfect but a marked improvement from the first batch. I made a baguette, a Boule, and pan d'epi - the cuts could have been much better, I found using a razor blade and making a smooth cut to be harder than I expected. But, I am going to try really hard to not get OCD about this, I will instead read up on bread making and yeast, the more I understand the chemical reactions in the process the better off I will be. If you have any good suggestions for a book from where I might gain this knowledge- please leave me a note in the comments. The bread turned out pretty well, having a decent crumb and crust. This was a great challenge, it pushed me to learn by doing things which were out of my comfort zone.
Up until now bread has been more of a vehicle to carry all sorts of yummy toppings- (mostly butter laced with fluer de sel), not the main attraction itself, but hopefully as I become a more experienced bread baker that will change. The recipe can be found here.