Loafing Around With Julia (French Bread)

Friday, February 29, 2008


Well, here I am for my third Daring Baker Challenge and no plague, infestation or other calamity has befallen me yet! Unless, that is, you count the big chunk of my living room ceiling that fell in a few weeks ago, during an particularly strong thunderstorm. But, you know what? I’m not even going to go there. It’s a beautiful day and I have some gorgeous fresh bread loafing around on my kitchen counter, the heady aroma of which is still wafting through the house, making me swoon. Life is good.

The theme for this month’s DB challenge is Julia Child’s French Bread from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2. Mary (the Breadchick) from The Sour Dough and Sara from I Like to Cook are our hosts this month. I have to start off by giving them both a BIG THANK YOU for hosting this month’s challenge. It is obvious that they put an enormous amount of time and effort into selecting and fine tuning the recipe, so that even a doughaphobic bread baker like me, could follow it.

When I first took a look at the recipe, I almost died! It was about 18 pages long! I just knew that at the end of the day, instead of tasting delicious french bread, I would be tasting defeat. I tried not to get discouraged and sat down to see if I could disect the recipe a little. I’m so glad I did. While the recipe itself is pretty darn long, there was a substantial number of very important and helpful editorial comments by Mary and Sara, which probably made up a good portion of the total page count. (Thank God for those comments!) Once I extrapolated the actual recipe from the commentary, it seemed much more manageable to me. I was ready to plunge right in.

I decided that since I was already committed to making this bread, I should make twice as much. I was afraid to double the recipe, so I went ahead and made two separate batches. I began the process at around 10:00 a.m. and took the last loaf out of the oven at around at around 1:00 a.m. the next day. It was a very loooooong process!

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Much to my surprise, I had no trouble whatsoever making the dough. I did have to add a little extra flour, but other than that, it went very smoothly. The dough was smooth and pliant, a little tacky, but not at all sticky. Whew! Good. I left it buried under plastic wrap and a towel for the first rise. I also set the thermostat to 70 degrees. Then, I went to get my hair done. (All that white stuff in my hair isn’t just flour, you know. A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do!)
The first rise came off without a hitch. My dough had tripled in size and looked as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Next came the second rise. While that was happening, I went to my office to do some paperwork. (Those highlights don’t pay for themselves, you know!) When I returned, about two and a half hours later, the dough was again, just as it was supposed to be. By that time, I was really pumped up!

Here’s where things started to get, well…sticky. I had a hell of a time forming the dough into the shapes I wanted. I’d planned to make at a couple of long baguettes, one regular French loaf and one boule. My first attempt at forming the baguettes didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned. Actually, I made such a mess of it that I had to throw it out. I.Was.Not.Happy! It was a good thing that I made that extra batch of dough!

In the midst of me having a little temper tantrum, I got a call from my mother. She has this uncanny knack of always calling me when I am in the throes of one crisis or another. This time, her timing was just right. Apparently, she has Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2, AND has made this particular recipe on numerous occasions. Sooooo, I did the only thing I could do. I packed up my little lumps of dough and hightailed it over to her house. These are the things that a Daring Baker must occasionally do!

Thankfully, Mom only lives a few blocks away. Upon my solemn promise to share the finished product with her, she agreed to help me. It was a good thing too. From the remainder of my dough, we were able to get two long baguettes, one big fat loaf and one mini boule. After the third rise, she carved those slices in the loaves like a pro. I never knew she had such wicked knife skills. (Remind me never to piss her off!)

Since I had my simulated baker’s oven all set to go at home, I verrrrrry carefully transported my doughy little babies home to bake. I loaded a 9-inch cast iron skilled with some water, plopped a brick in it, and tossed a few ice cubes in for luck. Then I gently rolled my dough onto an extremely hot stone baking sheet and baked some bread!

When time was up, I opened the oven door and what I saw took my breath away. I not only had freshly baked French bread, but I had GORGEOUS freshly baked French bread! It was brown and crusty and shiny. Unfortunately, I forgot that it was one o’clock in the morning and my squeals of delight woke up Mr. SGCC, who was not quite as excited about my accomplishment as I was. Oh well, he certainly didn’t mind too much when he was scarfing down that bread the next day.

Now, for the million dollar questions: Am I glad I did it ? Absolutely! The rush I got from seeing those beautiful loaves come out of the oven was priceless. Would I do it again? Probably not. As thrilled as I was with the end result, the whole process took way too long, from start to finish, to work with my schedule. The important thing for me is that, even though I probably won’t do it again, I now know that I CAN do it.
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I had a ball taking the pictures for this challenge. You’ll notice that my big French loaf is also a big ham! She couldn’t resist dressing up a little for her photo op. I also finally got the chance to take my beautiful Hermes scarves from Paris out of their boxes. I used them for the backdrops.

As I noted earlier, this is the mother of long recipes. For that reason, and to prevent me from getting carpal tunnel syndrome, I am not going to type it all out for you. If you would like to see the recipe, you can click here.

Sincere thanks again go to Mary and Sara for this excellent challenge, as well as Ivonne and Lisa, who created this fierce and fearless group, the Daring Bakers! I urge you to take some time this weekend and visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see some of the other awesome French bread creations that this terrific group of bakers has come up with.
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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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