Friday, February 29, 2008

Making Bread With Julia

Genesis 18:3-6
  He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant." 
 "Very well," they answered, "do as you say."
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."

Not very long ago I said that I wanted to bring my French bread up a notch. Now I make lots of French bread and everyone loves it. My nephews think I'm an incredibly awesome aunt just for my French bread. But all that aside, I was aware that I could do better. So I was really excited when I saw that for the Daring Baker project this month we were going to make French bread from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs (and others).

First up, I knew I had a copy of the book, but I look high and low ad then high and low several more times and I couldn't find it!!!!! Even though I have a very large cookbook collection I do know (for the most part) what books I own. I'm starting to wonder if I didn't lend that book to someone. But anyway, in the end my dear sweet husband bought me a new old copy. The book is volume two of a two volume set. I originally bought the book at Goodwill for 3.99, but this new one (used) was $20 at Powells.

Then there's reading that huge recipe. The printed out version from the Daring Baker site was 9 pages long in rather small print. Amazing for a recipe with only four ingredients. After perusing the recipe several times I decided that I would make the bread on my birthday to go with my steak, baked potato, asparagus and green salad dinner.

When I came down stairs on my birthday I had a wonderful surprise. Corey, daughter number three, had done a lovely job cleaning up the kitchen late the night before. I had been apprehensive about the fact that I wanted to make bread in a rather messy kitchen and Corey knew this would be a lovely birthday present. And it was! I started making the bread before church (which was at 9). The tricky bit there was getting the temperatures of things just right. I used an electronic thermometer, which seemed quite adequate for the job. And I even weighed the salt. This all seemed rather futile in the end when I realized that the dough was much too wet and I added 3 more ounces of flour and another little pinch of salt to go with the extra flour. But at that the dough felt and sounded just right. The whole process took me exactly one hour - 7:07 - 8:07.

We didn't get back until a little after one, so the dough had had at least 4 hours to rise for the first rising, which is longer than usual for me. The dough was risen with unusual bubbles. Oh, I forgot to mention. I used a different flour than I usually use. Normally I make bread with flour from Bob's Red Mill, buying it at the mill. But this time I used King Arthur bread flour. This change in the flour makes testing this new way for making French bread a little difficult, since I don't know how much of the difference is due to the flour.

I then proceeded to do the special punching down of the bread. I was very confused when reading the recipe, so I got onto the internet and looked at several u-tube videos for making bread. I finally decided that what the recipe was talking about was the fancy sqishing and folding of the dough. I would say that this was the one main difference in how I make French bread (besides the new flour). I then set the dough to rise for the second time. Then it's the next step that I know I cheated just a little bit. The dough rose up nicely and by the time to leave to go to the Art Museum I knew that we might not get back in time if I set the formed loaves to rise. So I squished down the dough again at left it to rise a third time. One thing that I've found in the past is that letting the loaves over-rise makes for rather disappointing loaves of bread.

As soon as we got back from the museum I set to forming the loaves for the final rise. I took my heaviest tea towel and floured it all up.

I decided since we were having a dinner party I would make three loaves all the same, so I divided the dough into three equal lumps. I must confess that I couldn't understand the rolling out directions so I just rolled the dough out like I always to and placed the rolls on the towel with the bad side up.

By this time it was 5:15. I covered them and left them to rise as long as I had time to allow. There was going to be a point when we had to eat dinner as people would eventually need to get home and get to bed as the next day was Monday. It was 6:40 when I decided to put them in the oven. So that meant that the last rising was one hour and 25 minutes. I gently rolled them onto a baking sheet that would fit into my Lacanche. This went well.

And here they are, just coming out of the oven.

I think these loaves look great. I was really worried about making loaves without a form. It seems there's no need for one.

Final Analysis:

Well for starters everyone thought that this bread was wonderful and they all agreed that it was even better than my usual bread. I definitely agree. But unfortunately until I make the bread this way with my regular flour I'll never know how much the flour affected the change. The bread was chewier and the crust was crunchier.

The one thing I could do without is the checking for exact temperatures of the water. That was a real pain, and I can't imagine it's usefulness. If the yeast puffs up everything is going well.

I would like to find out exactly how much water to flour and salt is perfect so that I don't have to add, but probably in the end it doesn't matter.

The big change in what I do is the serious squishing of the dough before putting it to raise the second time (and the third because I had to go out). I think that that method is a keeper.

It seems reasonable that the recipe for French bread came from an American cook because the French don't make bread, they buy it at their neighborhood boulangerie.

It was really great to want to take my bread up a notch and succeed at it. Thanks for a terrific Daring Baker project!

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; 
and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard


Marie said...

Molly Your loaves are text book perfect! Well done! Happy Birthday on Sunday as well! I hope that you have a lovely day!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Great job! your loaves look gorgeous! I'd love to have some of that King Arthur Flour...



Jaime said...

those loaves look perfect!

glamah16 said...

Fantastic job Molly.Would be curious to see your comparison witht the usual flour you use.

Proud Italian Cook said...

Incredibly awesome job!! They look divine!

L Vanel said...

Really gorgeous looking bread!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Molly your bread looks totally awesome. I'd be really interested to hear how your bread comparison turns out. I baked this several times: once with KA all purpose, once with KA bread and once with Bob's Red Mill white. (You are so lucky to buy it from the mill!!) I didn't find much difference.
I do think that the three long rises really impart the flavor to this bread. Love it.

Annemarie said...

It sounds like you really made the most of your waiting-to-rise times. Lovely loaves - nice to hear that you may have hit on a new favorite recipe!

Pixie said...

Your bread looks lovely and happy belated birthday to you! Thanks for the snapshots of the folding, that's the part that confused me the most.

Mindy said...

Good, Good Work- and sweet daughter-

HAPPY Birthday!!
Congrats on the baking challenge from a fellow Portlander! And here's to many, many more!

Jenny said...

Oh how I miss Powells! *Sigh*

I think the perfect amount of water/flour/salt changes on any given day, depending on the weather and humidity and baker temperament. My hope is to develop a feel to know when to stop adding one or the other....

breadchick said...

Molly, Jenny is right. The amount of water and flour will vary depending on the humidity and temperature the day you are baking.

Your loaves are picture perfect.

Thanks for baking with Sara and I

Big Boys Oven said...

so perfect and so lovely, what can I say, you really rock! I will be dropping to see more exciting things soon!

Aparna said...

This challenge seems perfectly matched for your love of Paris! I love the way your loaves look, especially the step-by-step pictures.

Aamena said...

you loaves look great! even i had a bit of a trouble understanding the directions for shaping and thats why wnet for small buns, and the funniest part was i had planned to watch the videos during the first rise, but the day i chose for the challenge internet was down the whole day!

Peabody said...

Those turned out fabulous...job well done.

coco said...

Just in time to wish you a very happy birthday! :)

Your loaves are so pretty. Even though I've visited so many, I still love each one of them! Everyone's is so unique!

Megan said...

Your loaves look wonderful. I hear so much about flour differences that it will be interesting to see the difference. You'll have to blog the difference for us!
Hope your birthday was wonderful. Let me quess-29?

Megan said...

It will be interesting to see the difference with the flours. Let us know, will ya? And a belated happy birthday to you! 29?

Mother Bliss said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Your bread looks lovely. I love your knitting and recipe site too. I can't believe you made socks! I heard socks are pretty hard to make. A beanie is the most I can do, but have been looking at Amigurumi. They're the cutest things.

Molly Loves Paris said...

Thanks, everyone, for the really nice comments on my loaves of bread. You Daring Bakers are such a great group!

Tartelette said...

The breads turned out wonderful! Nice and plump! Your family rocks!

Babeth said...

Great job! It looks 100% French!!!