BBA #14 Fresh French Bread


Alright, so onwards to the next bread in the Bread Baker’s Aprentice Challenge! This is another bread that I initally baked back in August, but with all the chaos of moving, pictures of the process were just scraped in favor of actually baking the bread. This is probably not a bad thing since I remember that my baguettes were mis-shaped and pretty homely little things. I think I also over-baked the baguettes since they were quite dry inside. I wasn’t to thrilled so I didn’t figure too much was lost. Fast forward now 4 months and I decided for the sake of the blog to re-make these and not only see if I could get my photos, but also improve on my first lack-luster effort. So let’s get started.

French bread calls for the simplest of ingredients: equal amounts of unbleached bread flour and all purpose bread flour, 16 ounces of pate fermete which I made and refrigerated the day before, salt, yeast and water.

I combined all the ingredients in the mixer with the bread hook attachment and let it knead everything together. I had to add about an additional tablespoon of water to get all the flour to incorporate. After about 10 minutes I had a nice smooth ball of dough, it was a little sticky to the touch but I’ve learned that its not a problem.

I sprayed the bowl of the mixer with olive oil and let it rise for about 2 hours. I removed the dough and divided it into two pieces to make batards this time instead of the thin baguettes.

Trying my best to follow the pictorial tutor in the book, I took the first piece of dough and shaped it into a rough rectangle, then I took the bottom third of dough and folded it over to the middle of the rectangle. I tried to press down and make a tight seam and to create some surface tension on the roll. Next I brought the top of the dough to the bottom of the roll and pinched the seams together until the surface was taunt but not in danger of ripping in the next rise. I set this roll -seam side down – onto my floured couche.  I repeated all this for the second piece of dough.

I covered the batards with oiled plastic and let them rise for about 60 minutes until they had almost doubled in size. Mid way through this rise I preheated the oven with my baking stone to 500 degrees.

Next comes the slashing.

Typically loaves are slashed for a couple reasons, one is to give the bread a place to expand in the oven (called oven spring) without tearing open the loaves and two, is decorative. Now I know, what your thinking. I have number one down, but number two needs some work. Clearly pretty, Martha worthy slashes still elude me, but I’m working on it! The bread tore instead of cut, so some of those cuts are might ugly, the good news is that they don’t affect the taste =)

I transferred the doubled, slashed loaves on to a parchment covered baking sheet and then slid them onto the baking stone. I poured a cup of boiling water into a cast iron pan in the oven to create steam and then for the first few minutes sprayed the interior walls of the oven with a spray bottle. The loaves had good oven spring and after only a few minutes I had to turn the oven down to 375 to keep them from over browning on the bottom. After about 25 minutes total I tested the loaves and they registered 205 degrees. I whisked them out of the oven and onto a cooling rack for an hour or so cool down.

The interior was nice and soft – not too dry, and was filled with plenty of medium-sized holes. The crust was crunchy out of the oven but softened during cool down.

This bread turned out really good and I’m so glad that I took the time to re-make it. This challenge is teaching me to adjust cooking times and temperatures by what I see happening in the oven and it is a lovely thing to realize that bread baking is a learn-able skill. The other lesson I have learned is that if things turn out less than picture perfect you can eat the evidence and no one is the wiser -that is until you tell the internet about it.

Next up: Kaiser rolls get a thumbs up!


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