My biggest fear about baking has always been making my own bread although deep down inside I always wished I was a natural baker… so for 25 days of the month of February, I procrastinated and questioned dropping out of this month’s challenge. If I hadn’t done it this month, I don’t think I’d have ever have tried making it on my own. Can’t believe what a wonderful support team the girls on DB are. After having looked at the 16 page recipe and 7-9 hours needed to complete this recipe, I had to ask my sister for help. She was able to condense the recipe down to 1 ½ pages… I was starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
I made the recipe and it wasn’t as difficult as I had thought. The hardest part of this challenge was to wait 2 hours for the bread to cool and with the apartment smelling like fresh bread, after about an hour of waiting, hubby and I caved in… We cut a piece and as we spread the butter, slowly seeing it melt, I instantly knew this was going to be heaven. I’ve been won over and will definitely have to try this recipe once again…
Pain Francais (French Bread)
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck)
3 - baguettes (24” x 2”) or batards (16” x 3”)
Making French Bread:
Step 1: The Dough Mixture
(1 ¾ tsp) 1 package dry active yeast
1/3 cup (75ml) warm water,
3 ½ cup all purpose flour, measured by scooping
dry measure cups into flour and sweeping off excess
2 ¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups tepid water
Stir the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.
Stir and cut the liquids into the flour with a rubber spatula, pressing firmly to form a dough and making sure that all the bits of flour and unmassed pieces are gathered in. Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky.
Depending the humidity and temperature of your kitchen and the type of AP flour your use, you may need to add additional flour or water to the dough. If the dough is super sticky, add additional flour one handful at a time until the dough is slightly sticky and tacky but not dry. If the dough is dry and feels hard, add 1 Tbsp of water a time until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.
Turn dough out onto kneading surface, dough will be soft and sticky. Let the dough rest for 2 – 3 minutes.
Step 2: Kneading
Start kneading by lifting the near edge of the dough and flipping the dough over onto itself. Scrape dough off the surface and slap it down; lift edge and flip it over again, repeating the movement rapidly. In 2 -3 minutes the dough should have enough body so that you can give it a quick forward push with the heel of your hand as you flip it over. Continue to knead rapidly and vigorously in this way. If the dough remains too sticky, knead in a sprinkling of flour. The whole kneading process will take 5 – 10 minutes. Let dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes. Knead by hand for a minute.
Step 3: First Rising
You now have approximately 3 cups of dough that is to rise to 3 1/2 times its original volume. Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it (Very lightly grease the bowl with butter or kitchen spray as well to prevent the risen dough from sticking to the bowl).
Cover the bowl with plastic, and top with a folded bath towel. Let rise free from drafts. Dough took 3 hours to rise to 10 1/2 cups. (I had the oven on at 300 degrees the entire time to keep the apartment warm). When fully risen, the dough will be humped into a slight dome.
Step 4: Deflating and Second Rising
With a rubber spatula, dislodge dough from inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping bowl clean. If dough seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour. Lightly flour the palms of your hands and flatten the dough firmly but not too roughly into a circle, deflating any gas bubbles by pinching them. Lift a corner of the near side and flip it down on the far side. Do the same with the left side, then the right side. Finally, lift the near side and tuck it just under the edge of the far side. The mass of dough will look like a rounded cushion. Slip the sides of your hands under the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let rise again, this time to not quite triple, but again until it is dome shaped and light and spongy when touched. Dough took 2 hours to rise.
Step 5: Cutting and resting dough before forming loaves
Loosen dough all around inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Making clean cuts with a large knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces for long loaves (baguettes). After you have cut each piece, lift one end and flip it over onto the opposite end to fold the dough into two; place dough at far side of kneading surface. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic and let rest for 5 minutes before forming.
Step 6: Forming the loaves
After the 3 pieces of dough have rested 5 minutes, form one piece at a time, keeping the remaining ones covered.Working rapidly, turn the dough upside down on a lightly floured kneading surface and pat it firmly but not too roughly into an 8 to 10 inch oval with the lightly floured palms of your hands. Deflate any gas bubbles in the dough by pinching them. Fold the dough in half lengthwise by bringing the far edge down over the near edge. Being sure that the working surface is always lightly floured so the dough will not stick and tear, seal the edges of the dough together. Flatten the dough again into an oval with the palms of your hands. Now, by rolling the dough back and forth with the palms of your hands, you will lengthen it into a sausage shape. Start in the middle, placing your right palm on the dough, and your left palm on top of your right hand. Roll the dough forward and backward rapidly, gradually sliding your hands towards the two ends as the dough lengthens. Deflate any gas blisters on the surface by pinching them. Repeat the rolling movement rapidly several times until the dough is 16 inches long, or whatever length will fit on your baking sheet.
Step 7 &8: Final Rise
Sprinkle the baking sheet with corn meal and place the baguette dough on it. Cover with plastic and towel once again and let rise for an additional hour. Preheat oven to 450 degrees about 30 minutes before estimated baking time.
Step 9: Slashing top of the dough – la coupe.
The top of each piece of dough is now to be slashed in several places. I made 3 slashes with some cooking scissors I had handy.
Step 10: Baking – about 25 minutes; oven preheated to 450 degrees (230 degrees C).
As soon as the dough has been slashed, moisten the surface with a soft brush dipped in cold water and slide the baking sheet onto rack in upper third of preheated oven. (I placed a bowl of water with ice cubes on the lower rack to create some steam in the oven) Rapidly paint with cold water after 3 minutes, again in 3 minutes, and a final time 3 minutes later. Moistening the dough at this point helps the crust to brown and allows the yeast action to continue in the dough a little longer. The bread should be done in about 25 minutes; the crust will be crisp, and the bread will make a hollow sound when thumped.
If you want the crust to shine, paint lightly with a brush dipped in cold water as soon as you slide the baking sheet out of oven.
Step 11: Cooling – 2 to 3 hours
Cool the bread on a rack so that air can circulate freely around each piece. Although bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself.
This is what mine looked like when all was said and done...
and here's a picture of my sister's French bread...its funny how we can all have the same recipe but end up with a very different end product.
Here's looking forward to next month's challenge. Enjoy!