I've been intimidated by yeast for a long time and I had resigned myself to never having homemade bread. Well, when I started baking yeast breads this fall in my baking classes I was amazed at how easy it actually was. I had such fun making white pan bread, sourdough buns, raisin bread, rye bread, breadsticks etc. Over Christmas I also made the most delicious asiago cheese bread using a recipe created by our very own Breadchick, Mary, co-host of this month's Daring Baker challenge.
So when I saw this month's challenge was French bread, I thought noooo problem. Even after I saw the seventeen page printed recipe, I thought how hard can it be? I mean just because it takes 17 pages to instruct you how to put together four ingredients in a 7-9 hour timeframe to make a loaf of bread, that doesn't mean it's difficult, does it?!? So off I went in my blissfully ignorant state of mind to make the most perfect French bread ever. Let's just say that my first attempt ended up hanging off both ends of the pizza stone and was a misshapen mess!!!I got up at 7am on a Saturday morning and hummed to music as my trusty KitchenAid mixed the ingredients together. I used instant yeast since I had it on hand and have been happy with its consistent results in the past. The dough kneaded in the mixer for around 7 minutes and required a little more flour than called for in the recipe. I finished the kneading process with a minute or two of hand kneading and the dough felt wonderfully elastic. I placed the dough ball back in the cleaned KitchenAid mixing bowl, covered it and put it into the oven for the first rise. I was thrilled with Mary and Sara's tip to put the oven light on to get the oven to the right temperature for the fermentation process.
Three hours later the dough had tripled in bulk and was ready for a punch down and second rising. It felt wonderfully warm and smelled fantastic. Then back into the oven for its second rise. My first inkling of problems to come started during the shaping stage. I had decided to make 2 batards and divided the dough accordingly. I felt reasonably comfortable shaping the dough after watching the recommended PBS episode of Baking with Julia (It was great to find out that you could watch these old episodes online - what a treat!) I unfortunately used a floured cotton tea towel to place the shaped bread on since I didn't have linen. I also put the loaves on the towel seam side down, opposite of what I should have done. This meant that I had to really manhandle the dough onto the board and then try to get it off the board onto the pizza stone in the oven. Good luck!!! That darn dough wouldn't budge. I finally rolled it off by hand and it fell upside down on the stone, with both ends dripping off. Urgghhh!!!
After 10 minutes of naively thinking "it can still work out", I decided to cut my losses and try again with the second loaf. This time I used a baking sheet lined with parchment and then manhandled the second loaf onto it. The result was much better (there was no place to go but up!) especially since I had ice cubes at the bottom of the oven for steam and misted the loaf 3 times with water. The loaf was a little misshapen due to manhandling and using a knife for slashes rather than a razor blade but it still was presentable. But the fight in me came out and I decided I would tackle the recipe again the following weekend, armed with the knowledge gained from this experience. (And as a sidenote, when I returned from my dinner party a few hours later, I put the first loaf back in the oven, baked it for the remaining 10 minutes and ate it the next day. Surprisingly, it tasted great - better than anything you can get at the supermarket. It just looked like a big, drippy breadstick!!!!)
Second time was a charm and I baked a French bread that not only tasted great but looked good. It had the distinctive flavour, crispy crust and large holes throughout that you want to see with a French bread. Thanks to Jason for wonderful pictures again this month and to Mary and Sara for hosting. It wasn't the gooey, chocolatey February dessert that I was expecting but it was a recipe that both challenged and delighted. Just what you want from a DB challenge!