...and not a stick of butter or cup of sugar in sight!
I've been a Daring Baker for over a year now. When I first joined we were a group of only 10 bakers and we didn't have an official name. Now there are almost 600 members plus another 100 joining next month. Who are the Daring Bakers? We're a group of food bloggers who, once a month, make the exact same recipe and then blog about our experience on the same day.
The Sour Dough's Mary and I Like to Cook's Sara are the gracious co-hosts for this month's installment of the Daring Baker challenge. I knew that with Mary being one of the hosts the likelihood of the challenge being bread was quite high. She is the "Breadchick" after all! According to Sara and Mary, the French bread recipe from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2" takes up 18 pages in the cookbook! Although that sounds intimidating, the actual recipe is just four simple ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. Julia had a great love for le pain Francais and that much love cannot be contained in just a couple pages.
I'm happy to say that since joining last February I haven't missed participating in a challenge yet. I thought I might have to skip this month's challenge because I wasn't sure if I would have the time. Although the active time required for making the French bread was only about 1 - 1.5 hours, the bread dough would require 3 rises. The first rise could be from 3.5 - 5 hours, the second 1.5 - 2 hours and the final about 1.5 - 2.5 hours. It's not like I would need to be chained to my kitchen for 11 hours straight, but I had to find a day where my schedule would allow it. The end of the month was approaching quickly, but I managed to bake my bread last Saturday. That day turned out to be cold, windy and rainy which was great for staying indoors. I was a little worried that the high humidity could wreak some havoc on my dough, but I was worried for nothing.
Like I've done in the past, I used my oven as a proof box. I warmed my oven for couple minutes and then turned it off. When it had cooled to about 80F, it was ready for the dough to sit in there for the rise. Mary and Sara also gave tips for other ways to keep the dough at the optimal rising temperature of 75-80F like using a heating pad or the top of your water heater. I think other Daring Bakers have mentioned using their clean, empty dishwasher still warm from the heating cycle to proof their dough.
I had most of the equipment necessary for making the French bread. I didn't have a pizza stone or unglazed quarry tiles to put in my oven as a baking surface. I decided to take my chances and just use a baking sheet pan lined with parchment paper. I read somewhere that the parchment must be professional grade or it'll char or burn in the oven while the bread is baking. My paper turned pale golden brown but there was no charring or burning. I didn't have stiff board to flip my formed and proofed loaf. I guess I could've gone downstairs and rummaged for a piece of cardboard and then covered it with aluminum foil as a decent substitute, but I just used another baking sheet pan. I turned the pan over so that I could flip my formed and proofed loaf onto the underside of the baking sheet pan. That way I could slide it off without interference from the rim of the sheet pan.
Some of the other bakers mentioned that there was a video of Danielle Forestier making French bread from the Baking with Julia [Child] PBS television series. Although it was not the same recipe we were using, the techniques are the same. Even though the recipe given to us by Mary and Sara was very detailed and included all the information we needed (plus a lot of helpful tips too), the video helped me understand what it means to create the "gluten cloak" or how to "pucker" my loaf. I even learned how to flour my linen towel properly so that my formed loaf wouldn't stick to it. As a novice with yeast and bread baking, that video was invaluable.
Even though my bread didn't turn out to be good looking, it tasted pretty good. It's awesome that four simple ingredients can be transformed into something so amazing with just a little kneading and time. Even though I've only worked with yeast three times before, this French bread challenge absolutely felt like a turning point for me. The bagels, cinnamon buns and potato bread from previous DB challenges helped me to conquer my fear of working with yeast, but this challenge made me feel like I could eventually become a decent bread baker. The concept behind the Daring Bakers is so simple: just follow the recipe chosen by the host. It may or may not be a recipe I would've picked if left to my own devices, but occasionally being coaxed (well, forced) out of my baking comfort zone has opened my eyes to a whole new world. So once again I am thankful to be part of this wonderful group of bakers. Without the Daring Bakers I may never have had this incredible breakthrough.
Normally this is where I would post the recipe. Since the recipe is quite long, please visit Breadchick Mary's blog,The Sour Dough, to see the recipe.