2008-02-29

Julia Child's French Bread

I really loved my first Daring Baker challenge. Right now, I'm down with the flu, though, so I'll just put up a picture and do the full post later.
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!

12 comments:

Gretchen Noelle said...

Your bread looks terrific! Hope you are feeling better soon! Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a fabulous job on your loaf of French bread. It looks so crusty and rustic...yum!

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

marion - il en faut peu pour ... said...

it looks perfectly done and appetizing ! "bravo" :)

Lunch Buckets said...

Well you must have done something right, cause that loaf looks perfect! Congratulations and feel well soon ;)

breadchick said...

OH I hope you are feeling better.

Your bread looks perfect though

Thanks for baking with Sara and I

Jigginjessica said...

Congrats on your first challenge! Your bread looks awesome!

I'm also really excited to have found your blog, I have a cousin that we lovingly call "the bubble boy". My aunt is always trying to come up with new ways of preparing meals that he can enjoy. Thank you for sharing!

Aparna said...

Welcome to the DB community.
The picture tells us the whole story. The bread is beautiful.
Hope you get well soon.

MusicalMom said...

I'm excited to have found your blog! We're dealing with egg, dairy, peanut, and tree nut allergies at my house. Plus, I avoid soy (I don't go out of my way to, but I don't buy tofu, edamame, etc.) because I have a slight allergy to it.

I've recently posted a few recipes on my blog. I'm excited to try some of yours!

lina said...

Congrats on your first challenge. Your bread is looking really great! I hope you're feeling better soon.

Jeena said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Allergy Mom said...

Gretchen-thank you! DBers are the nicest people, I'm thrilled to be one.

Natalie-thanks, and thanks for being so kind as to introduce me to all the other diet restricted bakers!

Marion-merci! So nice to get the expert's approval!

Lunch Buckets-There's a whole post's worth of mistakes yet to go up. I feel kind of guilty taking all this wonderful praise for the one good picture!

Breadchick-it never would have happened without all your advice. The notes you added to Julia's recipe made me feel like I had an experienced friend looking over my shoulder and helping me out!

Jigginjessica-thanks! We also call The Kid "Bubble Boy". (With love, of course. We also call him Stinkbutt.)

Aparna-you are so sweet! The pics of the other two loaves are going to tell a different story...

Musicalmom-you've got the egg/dairy/nut trifecta at your house, too? I will be be visiting your blog and taking notes! I'm so glad you came by!

Lina-many, many thanks!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I do hope your 100% again now.
Your bread looks wonderful. I really think it's great fun how scary yeast and bread can seem but for some of us who catch the "bug" (and that's not the flu) those little yeasties can really grab hold of our heart and lead us on some wild chases.
The Daring Bakers are just incredible, so glad to have you with us!