Isn’t this always how it goes? You work and work and work on something, doing everything right, only to commit some stupid (mostly) cosmetic error at the end, causing the whole thing to look awful. C’est la vie. But it tasted fabulous and more important it tasted right, so I can’t be too upset. Besides I am blaming at least half of it on my (horrible, stinking, rotten, &#@%ing) oven.
Welcome readers to my first month of participating in the Daring Bakers Challenge. I started noticing the logo last month, when suddenly a lot of the blogs I read had lemon meringue pies on them. I have never made lemon meringue pie, nor do I particularly like it, but I would love to be “forced” to make it. Just to learn how. I am just that kind of personality—it is why I like book clubs too. I like being obligated to read books that I would not otherwise pick up.
This month’s challenge, my first, was hosted by Breadchick Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like To Cook. They chose French bread and so at first I mostly felt relief, having made French bread before. After all these people made a Buche de Noel at Christmastime, and I can’t really think of a baking project that scares me more. The deal with the Daring Bakers Challenge is that you must make the exact recipe they specify, exactly as written. So while I had made French bread before (Peter Reinhart’s recipe, in particular), I had not made Julia Child’s—i.e., the Challenge.
On paper, the recipe is very easy. Granted it helps to be an experienced bread baker and know what the dough should feel like, but otherwise any baker could make this (and I encourage them to try). In reality, the bread is very difficult to schedule. It has multiple long risings, and if you are a late riser your bread might not be ready until after midnight! Not happening for this mom of 2 toddlers (as you can see from the photo below, we have a Daring Baker Junior in the house!)!
I solved this problem in 2 ways. First, thanks to a (*gulp*) $900 heating bill, my ancient (rented) house is now freezing. So I decided the first rising could happen unsupervised. Second, I am a night owl, so I decided to start the bread late the night before.
I am really glad I did this because the bread was ready to eat with dinner perfectly. It cooled for 2 hours, as requested by the recipe, and then was re-heated and served hot and crusty with European style salted butter. YUM. One note on the re-heating: for me the re-heating was essential because I could not get my crust to crisp up very well during the regular baking. I blame this entirely on my oven—those of you who read my blog know that at times I have had to turn on the broiler to get my cookies to brown properly. We are moving this summer and believe me, it cannot happen fast enough. But it did crisp up during the second time in the oven.
OK, now as to why my bread looks so sad… well first of all I decided to make boules for a few reasons. First, it was more of a challenge for me since I have successfully made decent if not perfect batards before whereas the basically nice looking boule has (and continues to) eluded me. More important, I accidentally left my nice large baking stone in my old house (which we still own, but given how hard it would be to mail I have yet to figure out how to retrieve it and it is 9 hours away), so there was no way I could fit the batards on my stone. Of course as it turned out, I could not fit the boules either, but at the time I was optimistic. So my boule-making skills continue to need improvement. THEN, just to make matters worse, in a fit of complete and utter absentmindedness (and I have been making bread a long time and watching my mom make bread my whole life) I did not cover the boules for their last rise . So of course they got a very dry skin on them—and when I tried to slash them they became an absolute mess. *sigh* I am blaming this one on Mommy Brain!
But I can attest, having been to France, this bread tasted like the real thing. Crispy and crusty with amazing flavor. It was excellent despite its appearance, so I really encourage you all to give it a try.
I am linking to the recipe because it is long, especially because it has detailed directions on how to shape several different choices of shapes for your loaves. However, I did try to provide a lot of pictures of how the dough looked along the way (top to bottom in order of making it) so that those of you who are not experienced bread bakers can get a sense of how the dough should look. As you can tell, up near the top, the dough starts out very rough and shaggy, almost soft. You can see that after kneading it will firm up and become fairly easy to work with. I ended up removing the objects surrounding the shaped boules after I took the photo–although objects help support batards, I don’t think they are necessary for boules. But don’t trust me since I am still trying to master boules!