Friday, February 29, 2008
Perfect, perfect French Bread
It's Daring Bakers time again, and this month, you'll see blogs overflowing with French bread. For French bread, surely you'd seek out a recipe from France, yeah? Ah, no, not really. Instead, our wise hosts, BreadChick Mary and Sara from I Like to Cook turned to the American cooking icon Julia Child. I have to admit that I know nearly nothing about her. I have a book - Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol. 1 - that I got from a friend who was moving and didn't want to lug this heavy book with him. I've read it (at the same time I read the archives at Julie + Julia, that uses the very same book), but I haven't cooked more than once or twice from it. I understand that many people, and many Daring Bakers, feel very strongly about Julia, but I really don't. Maybe it's an American thing.
That said, I frowned when I saw the recipe. 20 pages?? You're joking! Turned out a lot of it was quite skippable, and the recipe itself wasn't complicated at all. French bread contains four things - flour, yeast, salt and water. That's it. Julia also suggests using cornmeal, but Danielle Forestier who features in PBS Baking with Julia in the episode where they do this particular bread says that that's never done in France. And I admit, I skipped that part, seeing no real use for it. So, the recipe is long, and it takes a long time to bake. But, the only part I was worried about was shaping the bread. I watched this video clip of Julia and Danielle, and no more worries - it's really simple once you've seen it done.
I made Batards - a small baguette - and while I would have liked them a little longer, I'm not complaining. They rose perfectly and all in all, came out pretty perfect. They have a very crusty exterior, and fluffy, soft interior. The only thing I might have done differently is that I sprayed in more water in the oven a few times during baking, to provide a really moist environment. I think that might have contributed to the nice crust. Oh - and I needed more flour than the recipe stated to make it work - it was much too sticky at first, barely a dough at all.
I'm glad I made two batches at once - seeing as it took over seven hours from start to finish. Seven hours of fun and expectations! And you're rewarded with beautiful bread, so don't hesitate to make this if you happen to have a day free. It's well worth the effort!
For the full recipe, please go here.
And for the Daring Bakers Blogroll, go here.