Friday, February 29, 2008

Daring Bakers - French Bread




Foux da fa fa
Foux da fa fa fa fa
Foux da fa fa
Ah ee ah

(From Foux Da Fa Fa by Flight of the Conchords)

This month is only my second Daring Bakers Challenge, but I believe that I have now earned the title "Daring Baker". Our hosts this month are Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like to Cook.



From the moment that I learned that this month's challenge was bread, I knew that I would be testing my abilities, as I am not generally a bread baker. And when I printed off the 15 pages of instructions and tried to digest them, I knew that I was in for a challenge!


When I read all the fabulous French names for the various shapes of this bread, I was immediately reminded of a novelty song called Foux Da Fa Fa by Flight of the Conchords, a Kiwi musical comedy duo, in which the word "baguette" is bandied around numerous times to comic effect. And, well, my efforts at making this bread were sometimes pretty comical, in between all the flour coating my kitchen, trying to wrap my head around the instructions, and trying to coax my bread to rise after shaping.


At stage 1 of the process, my dough looked pretty good:


This is the dough after being placed in the bowl for the first rising. You can see a mark on the right hand side of the bowl where it was expected to rise to:


At this stage, the dough didn't disappoint me - it rose almost out of the bowl, and the yeast looked as if it had been very active:



After deflation and another rising, it was time to shape the bread. I had to say that this step was good fun, especially making the round "cushion" shapes with the lovely soft dough. To see that smooth, round shape emerge from the irregular shaped pieces of dough was magic! To test my daring, I chose to make a batard, a boule and four petit pains. I found the batard harder than the round loaves, but it seemed to go OK.

However, this is where my problems began, because two hours after shaping, the dough had still not risen at all. As it was late in the evening, I used the oven trick mentioned by Sara and Mary to coax the bread to rise. Unfortunately, I knocked the batard shape around a bit by shoving it in the oven in a hurry, so the diameter along its length was no longer as even as it had been. After another half an hour, the petit pains had risen a treat, the boule had risen somewhat and the batard had risen a little. (I imagine that I would not have had this issue with varying rising times if I had made all of the dough into the same size and shape.) This is the point where I said "sod it" because it was getting quite late, and baked the lot. I did not find it necessary to use fleurage to prevent sticking of the shaped dough during the process of transferring it to the oven tray for baking - although I did process some pasta in readiness!

With the aim of producing "handsome" loaves as described in the instructions, I put a pan of ice cubes in the bottom of my oven to create steam, and painted the surface of the bread with water during the early stages of baking. Here is the bread after three minutes of baking, when I removed it from the oven to "paint" the crust with water:



The bread looks pretty handsome to me! The finished product is pictured at the top of the post, and this is what the bread looked like inside after having been left overnight to cool:



The bread looked fine inside and out (although you can see that the batard suffered somewhat from my impatience in not allowing it enough time to rise). Its texture is of the chewy variety (it contains no fat), just like restaurant dinner rolls. Unfortunately, this type of bread has never been a favourite of mine. I am not a big eater of bread, and when I do partake, my preference is for soft Scotch baps and the like. The bread tasted perfectly fine - it was just not my thing.

I ate one of the petit pains for breakfast - cold with jam on one half, and warm with promite on the other half. I much preferred it warm. However, I gave the remainder of the bread to my friend, Veronica. She likes bread, and proceeded to eat a petit pain with nothing on it while I was visiting her. This helped to confirm that my bread was not a dud - it is just that I am not a fan of this type of bread.

That said, I learned a lot from this challenge. In particular, I learned how crucial temperature is to bread rising; how to trick bread to rise when it steadfastly refuses to do so unaided; and how to achieve those gorgeous loaf shapes that you see in better quality bakeries. It also made me face my fear of bread-making head on. This is what the Daring Bakers is all about. Thanks to Mary and Sara for proposing a daring challenge indeed.

If you are simply curious about how to make French bread or would like to have a go yourself, the instructions can be downloaded from Mary's site.


You can check out the exploits of all the other Daring Bakers here.

34 comments:

Peter M said...

Bravo Cake, making a good bread is no easy task.

Cakespy said...

Oh, it is like peeking into the future! Wonderful work!!!

Happy cook said...

Wow you made french bread at home. Yummm

Michelle said...

The bread looks amazing!!

Ann said...

Your loaves look great! And if you think YOU had rising issues after shaping... well, you'll see my post tomorrow. :-)

Gretchen Noelle said...

How wonderful that you learned through this process! It is a wonder how our environment affects the bread we bake. Too bad it was not your favorite, but I think it turned out great! fantastic job!!!

Tammy said...

cakelaw, your bread looks great!!! Well done

Big Boys Oven said...

Gosh got to you tell you, we really struggle on this challenge . . . as we are boys who can't bake bread!

Molly Loves Paris said...

Your loaves are handsome indeed. I ate my bread the next day with butter and vegemite, which I think must be like your promite.

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Peter, I now have real admiration for devoted breadmakers.

Thanks Cakespy - the international dateline makes things interesting!

Hi Happy Cook & Michelle, thanks!

Hi Ann, I'm sure your loaves look great. I can't wait to check out everyone else's loaves.

Thanks Gretchen - it was a wacky day temp. wise, getting up to 35 degrees Celsius then abruptly dropping off. No wonder the yeast went on strike!

pacificoutpost said...

Way to go with the bread! I had to add a considerable amount more flour than the recipe called for along the way - the dough was just way too sticky to work with. Maybe Julia Child never tried her hand at baking her French bread in Hawaii?

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Tammy!

Hey guiys, I am with you - I really found this one a challenge.

Thanks Molly. Promite is vegetable extract instead of yeast extract, and has a milder flavbour - but it is still as black as pitch!

Hi Gail, I bet that Julia hadn't tried it in Hawaii either!

zorra said...

Well done, and you really earned the titel "Daring Baker". ;-)

Passionate baker...& beyond said...

Your loaves are 'Handosme' alright. Very nice indeed. Great to meet another DB on the second challenge. Cheers Deeba

Pixie said...

I'm singing abba now...Looks great well done!

Maryann said...

It wasn't easy but you did it! A wonderful job!

Chris said...

Looking at your bread, I would have never known it gave you problems. Looks yummy! You go, DB girl! :)

Dhanggit said...

your french breads look absolutely gorgeous!! well done for this month's challenge :-)

Megan said...

God job! But I'm not that fond of this bread either. Bring on the next challange!

Rosie said...

Beautiful french bread - well done it looks stunning!

Rosie x

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Deeba - two down, ready for the next one.

LOL Pixie - I have visions of blue eyeshadow and "Mamma Mia". Thanks!

Thanks Maryann - your loaves were great too.

Thanks Chris - it feels like I achieved something by completing this challenge!

Thnaks Dhanggit.

I hear ya Megan - bring it on!

Thanks Rosie.

Carrie said...

Bread looks lovely!

ostwestwind said...

Your bread looks great!

Ulrike from K├╝chenlatein

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Carrie and Ulrike - your kind words are appreciated.

Y said...

I love Flight of the Conchords, but don't think I recall that song.

Your bread looks great. Looks like you went for a bit of everything - boules, batard, etc. I'm a baguette girl all the way, and besides, was quite thrilled to be able to ignore 1/3rd of the instructions for various ways in which to shape different breads.

marias23 said...

You've definitely earned the title of Daring Baker :)

breadchick said...

I love that even though you knew going in you didn't shirk from baking the bread and still learned something. That truly is what a Daring Baker is all about. The bread looks wonderful

Thanks so much for baking with Sara and I

Annemarie said...

I had a 'sod it' moment at 9pm as well, leaving behind loaves that were tasty but flat. Oh well - I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this and how it may have exorcised my bread demons despite not turning out perfectly well.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Y, it's out of Episode 8 - Girlfriends.

Thanks Marias!

Thanks to you Mary, and to Sara - we couldn't have done this without you. (Your additional comments in the recipe helped a lot!)

LOL Annemarie - we did it! Onwards and upwards!

Aparna said...

That's a good looking lot of bread. I "dared" and I "baked" but the outcome wasn't quite what I hoped for!

Sara said...

Looks great, thanks for sharing with us.

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Aparna. I think the fact that you dared is the important part!

Thanks for hosting Sara - I learned a lot from this challenge.

Half Baked said...

Your bread looks great! Nice job on this challenge!

Cakelaw said...

Thanks for dropping by, Half Baked.