I had a hunch that this month’s challenge would be bread, given the wonderful hostesses (Breadchick Mary & Sarah). I was not, however, prepared for a 14 page recipe for French bread straight from Julia Child! While French bread is my favorite kind of bread (the crispy crust and spongy inside… yum!), I had heard that it was impossible to make in a regular oven. I read the recipe a couple of times and was very intimidated and confused, as I’m not the best at getting an accurate visual from a written description. I also watched the Julia Child PBS video online and felt a bit more at ease. Lastly, I read the wonderful reviews and encouragement from other DBers who had completed the challenge, and decided to get started.
I decided to make the dough by machine, and it was very easy. The initial mixture was pretty sticky but with a bit more flour and the 5 minutes of machine kneading it had a lovely soft and springy texture. Here’s my dough at the end of the initial mixture:
I set the dough to rise inside my oven (light on, oven off) and after 3 ½ hours, it had grown to 3 times its size. I deflated it, with lovely popping sounds, and set it to rise yet again, for another 2 hours! Here it is after deflating and before the second rise:
After the second rise, I was ready to cut and shape, the scariest part for me. Here is where the video was very helpful! I was able to figure out what the crazy descriptions meant, having seen them in action. I decided to make 2 batards and 1 boule. Overall, the shaping went OK, although the loaves were not as smooth and perfect as in the video. Here are the shaped loaves ready to rise (again!):
After another 2 hours, the loaves were ready to slash and bake. Here is where I made a slight procedural mistake. Even though I had started the process at 9am, it had gotten pretty late with the crazy rising times. We had invited some friends over for dinner 7:30pm and I had to use the oven for some of the other dishes (oven roasted veggies and chocolate pots de crème). We decided to begin roasting the veggies while the oven preheated, then bake the bread, then bake the custards (which ended up chilling in the freezer for lack of time), and then the veggies again. So, while the oven (with a pizza stone on the top rack and the veggies in the bottom) preheated, I slashed the loaves (not perfect but good enough) and set them on the pizza peel:
When the oven was nearly preheated, out went the veggies and in went a cookie sheet that we used for generating steam. When the oven and cookie sheet were fully hot, in went the bread (on the pizza stone) and some hot water (on the cookie sheet). This generated some steam but not as much as I hoped for. My brilliant husband suggested that maybe using boiling water would work better, and that worked great. After baking, the boule turned out beautiful and the batards looked ok, a bit gimpy and slanted by nicely browned and crusted. Here are the loaves cooling:
We ended up serving the boule and some of the batards for dinner (after only 30’ of cooling… my bad) with muhammara (a middle-eastern roasted red pepper) and it was delicious! Everyone agreed that it tasted just like bakery baguettes or even better. My husband thought the bread was even better the next day but I though it was the same as before. Overall a big hit!
What I learned/practiced:
1) I love crusty bread (not new info) and can make it at home! The tricks for making our home oven into a bakery one will definitely make a recurrence the next time we make bread.
2) Sometimes a recipe may look long and scary and intimidating and just turn out to be long (not scary or intimidating), and be well worth the wait.
The final verdict:
When I finished the bread, I though I would never make it again. One week later, however, I’m already thinking/dreaming about fresh home-baked baguettes. As it turns out, this recipe was not really difficult at all, just very very time consuming. Also, as my husband put it, bread that only has 4 ingredients should not be this much of a production. I may make this again on a lazy day but not for company (too much stress!). I think I’ll likely use the baking tricks when making other (easier) kinds of bread, although I bet I won’t get the same crusty-yet-spongy result. Otherwise, baguettes from the bakery it is!