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.
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.