This month's Daring Bakers (fondly abbreviated DB by other fellow members) challenge hosted by Mary and Sara involves making French bread following the recipe by Julia Child. Although I have made bread with success in the past, I felt rather dubious undertaking this particular project. I suppose it is partly because I want my first DB entry to be groundbreaking, to be successful and prehaps even triumphant. Alas, this is not the case.
I made 2 attempts at the recipe, the first being a failure I would prefer to forget. However, in the spirit of selflessness (which is quite unfamiliar to me... 'til now) and by sharing a personal flop so others may learn and never have to suffer the same frustration, I have decided to again live through and immortalise the painful mistakes I have made through picture and prose.
In retrospect, I should have saved my Waitrose: Super Strong Unbleached Flour for my very delicious rye n seed loaves. I suspect being a less processsed flour meant that it had a lower starch content to "soak" up the volume of liquid called for in the recipe. I should have picked up on how soft and sticky the dough felt during kneading - or should I say paddling. The dough was reminiscent of the one for the no-knead bread I made previously. Not soupy, but definately difficult to handle and shape. Still, I perservered until the bread were baked. Despite the disappointing outcome, I took photographs so you (my patient reader) can picture what I have been ranting about for the past paragraph.
A more promising outcome came at my second attempt, though still a far cry from the sticks, boules and loaves you get from a French boulangerie. At the risk of sounding like a defeatist, I did resign myself to the fact that I will never achieve a good quality French crust; one that is thin, crisp and crackles as you tear the bread apart, at home. To be fair, I think all of us who decided to embark on this challenge were doing so on a handicap - we were all lacking the right oven! Or perhaps I just didn't try hard enough(?)
I spent a restless night in bed after my failed first attempt (NB you should know by now if you are losing sleep over the failure to make bread, it is likely your obsession is pathological) trying to figure out where I went wrong. I decided then, at a little past 3 in the morning, to get back into the kitchen and to try the recipe yet again but using an all-purpose flour (the colour of all-purpose flour is closer to brilliant white compared to the super-strong variety, the bleaching process leaches some of the grains' protein) and a teaspoon of sugar to help the yeast along during the prolonged fermentation period. I added water gradually to the dry ingredients while mixing and used considerably less water (a total of 290 ml) to achieve what I thought was an adequate consistency ie. soft, slightly tacky and pulling off the sides of the mixing bowl.
I followed the fermentation times inerrantly and was pleased with the results after each of the prescribed rising times. I performed 2 book-turns after the pointage premier temps to develop the gluten further and after the pointage deuxieme temps, I divided my dough into half and from the one half, shaped six petit pains and the other into a batard.
So far so good... but here comes the point where I fell short. Short of patience that is.
So why is it that the final rise takes so long? It felt like an eternity! I was rubbing my hands with anxiety and I finally gave into placing my dough in the oven eventhough I knew they just weren't quite ready to be baked. A price I paid quite dearly as clearly illustrated in the image below.
Yup, no simulated baker's oven was going to save these babies! The crumb of the baked product was tight and dense. Although not unpleasant to eat, I can't say it made me sing or cry out with joy.
All in all, I truly enjoyed this challenge. Furthermore, it has reinforced my belief that we all learn from mistakes and I have learnt mine: patience is required when baking the perfect bread.