It's that time again! The Daring Bakers have taken on a big challenge this month with Julia Child's Pain Francais. When introducing the recipe our host bloggers, Breadchick Mary, of The Sour Dough and Sara, of I Like to Cook, wrote that the recipe (taken from Mastering the Art of French Cooking) is long, warning us that it "starts on page 57, ends on page 74 and not only lists the ingredients and the steps for making French Bread but is full of good general information about making bread and working with yeast." Additionally they included tips of their own, so just reading through the recipe was a slightly daunting task!
I really procrastinated on this challenge and I'm not sure why. I love baking bread, I love Julia, and I have great respect for this month's hosts, so I don't know what it was. Maybe it was the estimated seven to nine hours from start to finish, maybe it's that my oven is badly calibrated and baking new recipes is always a gamble for me, maybe it was because I usually make bread in loaf pans and had Hand-Shaped Anxiety Syndrome. Probably it was all of these things. At any rate I periodically read through the recipe and then tried to ignore the looming deadline.
Finally last Sunday I marched into the kitchen and got started. The first rise was done in a (relatively quick) three hours and everything went swimmingly until I got to the part about forming the loaves and the last rise. I'd decided to make one large round loaf, and I obviously don't quite have the technique down for doing this. As the recipe explains, because French bread is not baked in a pan, "the loaves have to be formed in such a way that the tension of the coagulated gluten cloak on the surface will hold the dough in shape." Yeaaaaaah... Well, while I understand the science involved, I clearly didn't get this bit right. I managed to shape a credible-looking ball with the sealed pucker on top... but during the final rise it just sort of "rose" outward, rather than up, leaving me with a large flat disk.
It all went downhill from there, I'm afraid. Unmolding the loaf onto the baking sheet (you want to turn it over so that the puckered side is down and the moist bottom is up) seemed to deflate my disk even further. But I forged on, slashing (okay, ripping) a cross in the top, brushing it with water and popping it into the oven.
The end result was pale, sadly (I hate my oven), and not very tall. I set the frisbee-shaped loaf on a rack to cool and announced to Jack that my bread was a mess and I'd failed, and then I started making dinner. In my head I grumbled the whole time. "Who wants to spend THAT much time for an anemic-looking malformed disk of bread?" I thought. "This isn't worth it and I'll never do it again," I thought. "Well, we may as well have some of that damned bread with dinner," I thought.
And you know what? My reaction to the first bite reminded me a lot of what I said right after my first baby was born. After twelve hours of cursing every mother who never told me how bad labor was and of wondering why anyone on the face of the planet would go through childbirth more than once, I looked at my son and then looked at my husband and said, "I'd do this again."
You heard me. I'd make this bread again. This is seriously good bread. I mean, this bread tasted FABULOUS. It was crusty, chewy and just perfectly salty. It tasted like Paris.
I would so make it again. How else am I going to get the forming of the loaves right?
A big thanks to our hosts for choosing a recipe that really inspired! Want to see how the rest of the Daring Bakers did? Check out our blogroll and enjoy!
Click the link for the recipe.