Friday, 29 February 2008
French Bread - Daring Bakers
It's the last day of February, and incidentally it's also the last day of February in a Leap Year! So what better date can there be for the blogosphere to be inundated with another Daring Bakers Challenge! YAY!
This months Daring Bakers challenge is hosted by two wonderful ladies - Mary, also known as the Breadchick and Sara. Now Breadchick is one of my Favourite DBs and being a Breadchick, it's no surprise that she tied up with Sara to pick a Bread challenge. The challenge is a French Bread recipe from Julia Child.
Umm.. Julia Who???
Okay, so hit me on the head and call me names. I'm sorry but before this I had NEVER heard of Julia Child. So knock me on the head again - hard!. For those of you that know me, whether in person or in cyberspace, you would know that whenever I don't know something, I NEED to find out - it's like a compulsion.
Thank Goodness for Google! A quick search and I proceeded to read about Julia Child and now I know something about her.
I can imagine all of you, especially in the USA gaping with your mouths wide open while reading this. In my defence, at least I know about the Galloping Gourmet! Ha! You've never heard of Graham Kerr? If you haven't, we'll just put that down to the era of pre-globalisation. If you DO know who good ol' Graham is, then bully for you!
Of course nowadays, everyone knows every other personality on either side of the Atlantic as well as the Pacific and all the crinkly bits in between as well. Just like most of us know that the answer to the Great Question of Life, The Universe and Everything is 42. And if you Don't know that, then I would seriously question your literary choices. And that would also mean you didn't get the aforementioned 'crinkly bits' joke...
Ah... But I digress. And for all of you that know me, you would know that digressing is what I do best...
So anyway. Julia Child eh. Apparently , before Julia became a chef, she was a little bit of an Agent 99. More specifically, she worked as a Research Assistant for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a newly formed government intelligence agency. She and her colleagues were sent on assignment to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she played a key role in the communication of top secret documents between U.S. government officials and Sri Lankan intelligence officers. Pretty Secret Agent kind of stuff if you ask me...
After getting married to Paul Child and moving to France, good old Julia developed a fancy for French Cuisine and went on to study at the famous Le Cordon Bleu Cooking school whilst she was in Paris way back in the late 1940's. Julia then started a series of cooking shows with the first one debuting on February 11, 1963. A little before my time so perhaps that explains why I never heard about her? Anyway, apparently Julia is THE person when it comes to cooking and without her, we wouldn't have Nigella or Jamie entertaining us - or Chef Wan (local Malaysian Celeb Chef!)for that matter.
Julia Child was also responsible (with two others) for the two-volume cookbook titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Published in the U.S., the 800-page book was considered a groundbreaking work and has since become a standard guide for the culinary community. The recipe for French Bread comes from Volume Two of this book.
So, enough about Julia Child and on to my experience with this Challenge.
Making bread is not my favourite thing in the world. I may have overcome my fear of yeast but bread still scares me. Reading the recipe (over, and over) I kept thinking that it was a Recipe for Disaster. These are some of the things that spooked me:
1. It was a Bread Recipe - scary in itself
2. 16 pages long - Yes! The recipe was that long
3. Recipe stated that it took about 9 hours to complete - if that's not scary I don't know what is!
4. The bread was supposed to be made in “free form” fashion. No loaf pans, bannetons, brotforms or baguette pans may be used.
5. Refer to the above, I didn't understand banneton or brotforms
6. We had the choice of making baguettes or batards; short loaves, ficelles; round loaves, boules; round or oval rolls, petits pains or large round or oval loaf, pain de menage or miche; pain boulot. All of which sounded very scary. Not to mention that I didn't know what to expect from any of them with the exception of a Baquette.
7. There was a complicated procedure in final proofing and shaping that involved flouring a piece of canvas or fabric and then using a piece of cardboard to move the dough from the cloth to the oven.
Enough things to worry about! So you can imagine that I was practically pissing in my pants when I decided to attempt this challenge. Unlike my usual attempts, this was on a Thursday morning as it was a Holiday here for Chinese New Year. I was up early and I used my new Kenwood mixer to do the mixing of dough and kneading.
Beautiful machine, my Kenwood!
The recipe is simply a mix of flour, a little salt, yeast and water. I used Instant Yeast but as the recipe states, you need to 'proof' the instant yeast in water till dissolved to improve the taste.
The dough came together fairly easily and I only had to add in maybe two handfuls of flour to get the right consistency. I was thrilled! This is how my dough looked.
Then of course it was time for the first rise and what a time it was!
The recipe said that the temperature needed to be 70F which is about 21C. I have a thermometer hanging in my kitchen that showed a temp of 27C (81F) so I decided to place the dough in the cooler living room. It took about 4 hours for the dough to rise to the required 10.5 cups.
I then did the folding of dough into a parcel trick. I couldn't figure out why that was needed but the recipe said to do it and so I did it. Then it was the second proof that took another 2 hours so we were about 6.5 hours into the recipe (including the measuring, mixing and kneading) No real problems so far.
Then it was time to do the forming of the loaves and the final rise. I opted to make 2 Batards (or maybe they were Ficelles) and about 6 rolls (petit pain). I had no problems forming the ovals but couldn't for the life of me figure out why you had to flip here and press there and use your thumbs with one but your heels with another. I followed the recipe diligently though.
Then it was time to place the dough on the floured fabric. I used an old cotton t-shirt of mine and floured it thoroughly. That was pretty fun actually! While waiting for the dough to rise (another 2 hours) I prepared the unmoulding board by coating it with cornmeal and also greased a baking tray.
The dough had risen beautifully and I regret not taking any pictures - its just that I was busy cooking other dishes as well. We were having some friends over for dinner and I was planning on serving the bread with the soup that The Lovely Wife was making.
Unmoulding was tricky but fun as well and then it was slashing time!! I felt like a professional Slasher! A nice slash here, another slash there. The dough splits and spreads... All quite exciting really...
Into the oven but not before a quick brush with cold water. Stared at my watch for 3 minutes and then quickly pulled the tray out, brushed the rising dough with cold water again then stared at my watch once again. Process repeated itself every three minutes and The Lovely Wife was getting irritated with me as she was trying to cook in the kitchen as well and SHE kept getting in MY way. Good thing I had put the razor blade away or else there may have been some other form of slashing going on...
Ding! 25 minutes in the oven and I pulled my bread out.
Boy o boy did it smell lovely! The Lovely Wife reached over greedily to test the bread and I slapped her wrists. "It's got to cool first!" I screamed almost demonically, my eyes wide while my fingers twitched wildly as I looked around for the razor... Not to worry, that was just a Hitchcock moment, no more slashing occurred.
It was nearing 6pm and I had been at this for more than 9 hours. Our guests were due at around 7.30 for dinner at 8 so I was hoping the bread would be cool by then. We only actually got round to dinner at 8.30 but I had sneaked a sample of one of the Petit Pain just a tad earlier...that's why there are only 5 buns in the picture below!
It was Delicious! The crust was crusty while the inside was soft, but not too soft. It had a lovely fresh taste and The Lovely Wife thought it was fantastic! First time - EVER - that she has thought my bread was any good!
The guests loved the bread as well and the true test was that my darling son enjoyed the bread. Whats so special about that? He usually doesn't like bread!!
So thank you Mary and Sara for this wonderful challenge and it was DEFINITELY something that I would not have made if not for the Daring Bakers. I doubt I would make this again, simply because it just takes too long but at least I know I CAN make it and that is something special for me. I also know that I can now act all cocky and 'condemn' French Bread from commercial bakery's - not that I WOULD do that, but knowing that I CAN is what I like!! :)
I also learnt a fair bit... and I really love learning new things! Not only did I learn about Julia Child, but I also picked up a little French and also enhanced my baking repertoire. Only problem is, I'm not sure if I made a Batard or a Ficelle. More troublesome than that is that I learnt that Batard means Bastard in French since the Batard is the bastardised form of a Baguette! Even MORE troubling is that when I was trying to find a picture of a Ficelle on Google Images, the search result for Ficelles (with an s, yes!) showed me pictures of scantily clad women!! Apparently Ficelle, aside from meaning a demi-baquette, or thin loaf; also means string - thus explaining the scantily clad women wearing strings as undergarments... all very interesting, really.
Finally, a quick check with the Breadchick (After I had completed the challenge) on the reason to fold the dough in such a specific manner led to this explanation. It seems that when you fold the dough in this manner, you are aligning the gluten strands so they build a really strong structure to support the formed bread during the rising and baking process. This is required since this type of bread is baked WITHOUT a loaf pan or support other than the dough itself. So the gluten needs to be really strong. Failure to align the gluten strands means that you wont get such a nicely shaped Baguette or loaf but rather a lumpy, mess.
You just keep learning new things!!
You can find the rest of the Daring Bakers at the Official Daring Bakers Blogroll so please visit them to see how they fared with this challenge.
Thanks again Mary and Sara for this wonderful challenge and this link takes you to the recipe over at Breadchick's!