Update: I can't remember the last time a bug hit me, or the rest of my household, this hard. If you are sick this flu season, don't be stubborn, head into a doctor's office and take care of yourself. As for the bread...I started writing this post the night before the scheduled DB reveal, and am just finishing it now....
It's not the hubris, it's the humidity.This is my first Daring Bakers challenge, and I was so very excited (and relieved) when I found out what this month's recipe is. There was nothing to adjust, compensate, remove, or replace, except possibly my attitude, because I have something to confess. I am a serial dough abuser. I frequently make pizza dough, which I hurry along with a heating pad, or toss in the fridge until I'm ready to use it. Yes, that organism called yeast has its own life cycle, and better bread will result if it's understood and respected. Of course, my Kid is also on a schedule, and he wants dinner NOW. This time, though, this time the bread and the process was for me. I printed out all 15 pages of directions, highlighted, underlined, took notes, procured equipment, and tried to figure out how on earth I was going to find 7 to 9 hours to make bread!
The recipe, Pain Francais (French Bread) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck, was selected by Breadchick of Sourdough and Sara of I Like To Cook. Breadchick was also kind enough to include the entire recipe, along with the invaluable notes that she and Sara provided, in her post.
I followed the recipe to the letter. I thought that, and my previous experience with yeast breads, would be enough to sail me through the challenge. Then I started on Step 1: The Dough Mixture. Despite measuring as precisely as possible, the dough was far, far too wet and sticky. I added at least half a cup of additional flour, probably closer to a full cup. Although I reminded myself that my frame of reference is pizza dough, which is extremely stiff, I'm sure I went too far, and ended up with a far stiffer dough than is ideal for French Bread. My best guess is that living in such a humid place, Florida, may have caused my flour to have already absorbed considerable moisture from the air.
The next problem I ran into was also geographical. Despite blasting the air conditioner all day, I just couldn't get the temperature in my home below 74°. (Don't hate me.) So I placed the dough container in a bowl of water and kept chucking ice cubes into it to make sure I had a nice, slow, first rise.
It paid off. After the first rise my dough had the softest, silkiest texture I've ever laid my hands on. Forget babies' bottoms. I've never fondled an infant's rear end the way I felt up that dough. I didn't want to put it down for the second rise!
Then I ran into my next problem: bedtime. The Kid did not want to go to sleep that night, and I ended up letting the second rise go on far too long. The dough went beyond triple it's original size, and ended up with a lopsided dome with large gas bubbles. I regrouped, and formed three round loaves. (I decided against baguettes so that I could use my pizza stone to bake the bread.) I had a very difficult time folding the dough, so I suspect that it was indeed too stiff from the additional flour. The final rise was somewhat disappointing, since the three loaves didn't really gain much in size. I hoped for some good oven spring, since I was working the steam angles as hard as I could with a sacrificial cookie tray heating up water and getting more ice cubes thrown into it. (I'm sensing a trend...)
Success! Sort of. The first two loaves I baked on the pizza stone sprang...so high that the tops got too close to the top of the oven and burnt. I moved the oven rack back down from the top third of the oven, where I had placed it according to the directions, and baked the final loaf. It was beautiful. The last one was pretty, but all three tasted amazing. I'm hooked. Hooked on the Daring Bakers, and hooked on baking more bread. Thanks so much to Breadchick and Sara for setting such a great challenge and giving all the help needed to make it doable, and to the Daring Bakers for being the nicest, most welcoming kitchen junkies anyone could hope to meet!