Monday, October 20, 2008

The Bold and the Beautiful!

No. Don't worry. I am not going to talk about or review or comment on a soap opera or anything. Rather, I am going to praise the Daring Bakers (Breadchick and Sara) and one of their great mentors who has truly inspired so many, Julia Child! These women are bold and beautiful and amazingly talented.

It all started with the desire to make bread. And French bread is my favorite. I have made bread before. I probably started about ??? 15 years ago. I made some here and there. It went from not very good at all to somewhat decent loaves. If I really really had to though, I could maybe count the number of times I made bread. Not too too many. Less than one a year in total and it has been a few years since attempting it again- pizza dough and focaccia not withstanding. Recently, since starting my blog, I have been once again yearning to make bread. So a few weeks back, I made some. It was an easy recipe and a little quicker than some. The bread fell into the "decent" category. So I decided to search for a better if more complicated recipe. So I googled a little and clicked around and decided upon French bread ala "Ze Daring Bakers Conquer French Bread ala Julia." Go check it out! This is not a recipe to be trifled with. It is not one for the timid, rushed or faint of heart. This is a bold and very LONG recipe. After I began reading and scrolling down, I got a little dizzy. I printed it out.

My default in printing things online is usually at about 90% size. Out spit 19 pages of this recipe! Not only does Breadchick provide all of Julia's recipe and suggestions but some of her and Sara's notes as experienced bakers. These Daring Bakers suggest reading the recipe over at least twice before starting. And I HIGHLY suggest you follow their advice. As it was lunchtime already I did not have time to more than skim the whole thing first. And before I even knew which end was up, I simply dove into these new and slightly choppy waters. To compensate for not reading it all over a couple times, I read the first steps VERY thouroughly as I followed them. Rereading from time to time with each couple steps. I did this until the my perfect little ball of dough was ready for the first rise.

*********Big Sigh*********
Can you hear it?
Isn't it lovely up there? All round and smooth and perfect and dough-like. Beautiful. While this little dough baby was resting and happily covered with a bath towel in it's cozy little bowl, I reread the first part. I probably read that first part a total of 10-15 times as I worked through the steps. But you know what? For the first time ever, I have an understanding of what the yeast is supposed to really do (besides make the dough rise). I began to understand the gluten and how it was supposed to work and how it is supposed to feel. It felt GOOD! So good that one of these times I may have to try it all by hand, without the stand mixer.

So far, so good now right? Okay. So I had at least 3 hours to wait for the first rise to finish. I had plenty of time to read and reread the rest of the recipe. I started to. YIKES!! It was just so long. Not that I didn't have the time. It just looked so daunting and hard. So instead I read the steps to the next rise and did NOT look any further for now. I read those steps a few times saving the later portions for later to ease my tired little mind.

Here all these times working with dough and I never knew the sides of my bowl should be as vertical as possible for the rise to work properly. I had always placed the doughs in a wide glass bowl. For shame! Look how big and poofy and blistery my dough got! And in the minimum suggested amount of time! The hints and tips these Daring women provide are great. I love the "marking" of the bowl to know how much larger the nebulous "3 times the size" truly is.

And so I went on through the recipe, reading only the steps that were next on the agenda. I did not want to overwhelm myself. It worked well for me this way. Unfortunately I started a bit late and was at this point counting on the bread as part of dinner. I cut a few corners on the second and third rise and did a little less than I think would be optimum. And so came time to actually cook my creation.

As per the tips, I similated my oven the best I could to be like that of a baker's oven. I made 2 round loaves as I did not think the baguette shape would fit on my pizza stone very well. I let the second loaf rize a little longer while cooking the first so in actuality, this loaf did have the right amount of time for the final rize.

The trickiest part of the whole thing was getting my shape onto the wooden paddle and then onto the stone. It was also hard to cut the top. No knife I found was sharp enough. Even my exacto knife did not make the cut very smooth or easy. Do any of you Daring Bakers have any more tips on this?

The other big "no no" or short cut I made was to cut the bread before letting it cool the recommended 2-3 hours. As it was, dinner was running really really late! My silky, subtle, sexy soup was finished and smelling so so good! The kids were whining. My stomach was too! I DID let the second loaf rest and cool though. Does that count for anything?

The end result? Not the very best bread I have ever had. BUT it was by far and away, THE best bread I have ever made, despite rushing things a bit here and there. This bread was just as good or better than any fresh bread from my regular markets. It simply did not stand up to the best breads I have ever had from really good bakeries, restaurants or of course those lofty gorgeous loaves I carried around in Paris!

I made the bread again the following weekend. I started at 8 am this time. Once again I accomplished it by reading each section as I went and did not try to overthink parts that were to come later. Maybe with a few more attempts, I will not have to read quite as intensly. I did not take short cuts on this second try but only allowed the bread to cool about an hour before eating it. But the results were about the same as the first week. Very good. I would have to say at least a strong B or B+. I do think I need to start earlier. Maybe at 6 am? And the other large pitfall is just getting the perfect little risen shape onto the transfer board. Any advice on this?

If you have some time and patience, do go and read Julia's recipe as posted on The Sour Dough site. It was a challenge! And while I do not feel I have conquered the mountain, I do feel I have made my way pretty far up there and really enjoyed the trek so far. How very Zen of me, right? Well I do want to get pretty close to the top but for now I am enjoying the path and the fruits of that path. Keep tuned in as this is not the end of my attempts for the perfect French bread. I am having some fun now. Won't you come and enjoy a slice with me?

A special thanks to Julia Child for all the inspiration she has provided all of us and to Breadchick and the other Daring Bakers for their recreation.


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Oh boy, do I remember that DB challenge! I had to race over to my mom's house for help halfway through. It turned out fine in the end, though.

Your bread looks gorgeous! Your house must smell amazing too. Kudos for successfully making one of the most complicated and time consuming bread recipes I've ever seen!

Nicole said...

Susan- It was a challenge but I enjoyed it. Did you find it to be better than other bread recipes? Worth the effort? Or do you have any others that are just as good?

That Girl said...


A World in a PAN said...

Congratulations, your bread looks fantastic!!
Bakers in Paris start work at ... 3 am!!! No wonder!

RecipeGirl said...

What a great challenge! Kudos to you for taking this one. Looks like you did a fine job w/ it.

That DB challenge was before my time at a DB so I got to skip this one. Julia Child frightens me.

Choosy Beggar Tina said...

I love homemade bread, and all of the kneading really relaxes me. That said, it doesn't always end the hockey puck dinner rolls that I made last weekend. A lot of people find making bread daunting, and I can see why - 19 PAGES?! I love making bread, but there's no way that I would have the stamina to take that on....or a 6am wake up on a Saturday. Kudos!!

Nicole said...

Kate- Thank you. I am proud of it.

Laura- I definitely do NOT think I could be a professional baker. That is just way too early on any regular basis.

Lori- It did work out pretty well. I haven't done a Julia Child recipe before. I am eager to try something else now. I am surprised with all your talent and expertise that you would fear anyone!

Tina- There is something very soothing and theraputic about kneading bread and working the dough. And as to waking up... My son is typically up around 6:30 crying for breakfast. I don't have much choice. When I was single.... I usually slept until 9 or 10! I miss that!

Robin Sue said...

Nicole- Wow what a day of bread, that is a long time. I have made bread Julia's way before until I found the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a day book. The bread always cooks up great and in way less time. Can I just say I am jealous of your marble surface!!

Anonymous said...

I think you did a great job! I love the sound of bread when it cools..that crackling sound :)

Lo said...

There is something of a meditation with baking bread. I don't have the luxury of doing it very often, but when I do...oh, man!

I think you did fabulously with this! The loaf is gorgeous.

Lisa said...

You should always let your bread rise on the tray or board it'll be cooked on! That saves the upset of stretching it out. Oh Bread Baking... we love you so!

taste memory said...

congrats to you! the scent of sourdough baking must have been wonderful. absolutely beautiful

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

WOW, dare I say THAT is PERFECTION. I can almost smell that from HERE!

Nicole said...

Robin Sue- I will have to look into that book! Don't be too too jealous of the marble surface. It is only 14" x 18". Something my mom had. I do all my rolling on it as it is my largest all flat surface.

Maryann- Thanks. I miss the sound though. :-( I guess a 2 year old and a 4 year old block out all subtle noises.

Lo- Thank you. I agree. It is a meditative process. I love it.

Lisa- This recipe has a couple pages of instructions on how to shape the bread and put it in canvas then move it onto a board... I wanted to follow everything. It makes more sense the other way though to me.

TasteMemory- The smell is pure heaven.

Mamageek- That is a long way... but maybe you can smell it! :-)

Anonymous said...

How fun! You really did a nice job.

xoxox Amy

Nicole said...

Thanks Amy! It was totally fun... if a bit difficult.