You got it…that’s what I did with the latest Daring Bakers' Challenge. I stuffed it with chocolate and ate it at 4 o’clock!….Why? Because it was French bread and because it was my favorite snack when I was a kid, that’s why, ahahah!
After the wonderful Tender Potato Bread a few months ago, Mary from The Sourdough and Sara from I Like To Cook bring us French Bread via Julia Child. We were given the challenge at the beginning of the month while my mom was visiting. I went for an enthusiastic "French bread by Julia Child?! Right on!", while mom went for a suspect "Julia Child? Who’s that?!" Ah yes….I had forgotten that Julia Child is to us what Maite and La Cuisine Des Mousquetaires is to you. Precisely: who? what?where? I had not heard or seen one of her shows,or reruns until I moved to the US. I fell in love with her style, her gusto, her love for good food. And yet, it took me until this challenge to ever make anything from her cookbooks. No particular reason really, just that 24 hour days are much too short for me and all the things I want to bake and cook!!
Well, with all the shopping and chatting that we did with my mom, we never got around to make the challenge bread together and it was kind of sad making it after she was gone but the neighbors were really happy when I brought the loot down to our quickly gathering! After a few years of being neighbors we know a whole lot of stuff about one another and they know I put Gertie and Bob, the crazy-going- starters, to good use on the weekend and have plenty of loaves to give extras away. The twins asked that same week when was I going to make French bread again. "Well, funny you ask…right now!" , "can we come and help?" Oh gosh what have I gotten myself into with my briliant ideas?! "Oh well, the house is a mess really, why don’t I call you in the middle and you tell me if you think the dough has risen enough?" That settled it as they love the come check on the small ball that keeps inflating, their favorite part beig the punching and slapping of the dough on the counter to knead it. In one of the later videos of Julia making French bread the chef who is baking with her slaps the dough 800+ times…golly! I usually go 10-15 minutes but I might try the counting method next time!
Anyways…back to the bread. I went for what B. calls the "Naked" approach and no he does not mean me…don’t start the 'eeewwws" before it’s time people! That means without any of the things that I would normally use to make my life easier when baking something. In that case that meant kneading by hand, no pretty and steady baker’s couche, no quarry tiles to simulate a baker’s oven and no steam injection oven like I have at work sometimes (that thing is the bomb!). That brought me back eons ago to my first bread baked in an oven and starring at the brick I pulled out that first time! Why did I tell B. I was going to "Naked challenge" this one ?!!Suddenly I started having visions of bricks coming out of the oven…But no, everything went well, and unlike Julia, I did not wait the recommended 2 hours to cut one loaf open. I love the bread when it is still warm, after about 1 hour or so of cooling time, the dough inside has finished its little extra baking business and you can start eating it up!
For the canvas or couche necessary for the baguettes to keep their shape during their final rise, I used a clean cotton sprayed with water and flour. I let it dry and it became as stiff as an overstarched shirt (but it’s not "real" starch that you would use while ironing). When it was time to move the baguettes on it, I sprinkle more flour and the creased remain in place quite easily like that. I sprayed the bread with water (99 cents sprayer at Wallie World) and baked the loaf and epi on a pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal. I transferred the baguettes to regular baking sheet line with parchment paper. Both methods gave me the same nice crispy crust and bottom.
I dealt with the steam issue by placing an empty 9x9inch baking pan in the 450F oven, and when the loaves were in I added one cup of water, closed the door and let it get steamy, then I repeated the operation once after 5 minutes, which differs from the recipe slightly but there is an explanation. Past 450F, the heat from my oven sets the fire alarm on within 2 seconds of our opening the door (but you could smoke a brisket right underneath without the fumes setting it off…go figure!), so it was either have my ears bleed three times every 3 minutes or twice every 5 minutes. Don’t rely on my maths but that is one time less….heavenly silence in the neighborhood!!
I would have posted the recipe here but I am afraid to send Blogger to a black vault it is so long. However thanks to Mary and Sara, you can locate it here. And I am fully aware that my Epi is not figuratively "hot"…it did get a little too brown, but I was completely enthralled in an email conversation with Tanna (and not food related for once!!) and completely forgot about it. It was great the very same night, let’s just say it fed the seagulls the next day…
Will I make it again? I probably will but I will give it one less rise and I will reduce the salt by a teaspoon. It seems that we all had different degree of saltiness in our bread this month and it is not surprising given all the different varieties available. The directions may be long but they are there to teach, guide and help. A recipe is a tutorial in many circumstances, especially when dealing with the basics of bread baking as this one does. The active standing time in the kitchen is very small as the dough does not need you to rise away, but it does require patience and attention…give a little love and you’ll get plenty back….