In the past I have used the Julia Child recipe/method, as well as the Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated recipe/method, also that Irish guy Patrick Ryan and more recently I’ve been using the Slovak, Ethan Chlebowski’s YouTube video and recipe/method. I got to thinking about their respective recipes and decided to compare them. So I made a list converting everything into grams so I could be comparing apples to apples. And if you think that that exercise didn’t nearly break my head open, you are mistaken, numbers ugh—even with a computer doing the work. They are all different in their methods and in their recipes. And by that I mean quantities of every component is completely different in each recipe and the methods are wildly different.
So I decided to make my own bastard loaf. Two ingredients from the Cook’s Complicated, diastatic malt which makes the bread brown more deeply (and I happen to have a pound of it and you only use a teaspoon at a time) and a quarter cup of whole wheat sifted to remove bran. I essentially used the Slovak recipe which is the wettest dough but not so different from Julia and I used Julia’s salt quantity and I let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 days which is sort of the Irish guy’s deal. But I think they’d all agree that giving the dough a long cold rise really creates flavor. Or maybe I was creating monster. And it turned out I was!
But it was not the one I might have imagined. I try never to get angry or in any event express myself in anger. Really, anger is useless and so I try to remain as calm as I can when things aren’t working out (Which is not to say I won’t succumb occasionally to hysterical frustration). This, however, was not one of those remaining-calm occasions. As I may have mentioned before, when you have as foul a mouth as I do there is absolutely nothing you can scream in anger that feels equivalent to the situation since I use all those bad words all the time in circumstances not nearly as dire as this.
I was able to get one unblemished loaf out of this fiasco. And even the ones that weren’t prefect were pretty damn good. And home made butter for chrissake.
A recipe follows. I don’t want to put myself up there with the gods of bread I’ve mentioned here but for me this worked better than any of their recipes/methods and to be honest, I just want to have this as a record since I often gasbag on about how fabulous this or that is and then I don’t write the recipe down and it is then lost to the ages.
My French bread recipe/method
500 gr Flour (includes 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour sifted to remove the larger bran)
12 gr Salt
1 packet Yeast
1 tsp Diastatic malt
370 gr Warm water
Add the yeast and a tablespoon or so of flour to the water, mix and let sit
Add the malt and salt to the flour and mix. When the water has formed bubbles of yeast, add and mix the water into the flour. Probably I should have used my hands but I used a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel, not goddam plastic, and let rest 15-20 minutes
—As an aside here I have come to realize that the timing of stuff is super flexible. It’ll be fine but longer is better. Until it sticks to the goddam baking sheet, that is.
At this point I emptied all of it onto the counter and did a little kneading just to incorporate all of the flour and I put the dough in a clean bowl. Cover (I used a silicon cover thing) and let rest for a half hour.
Now comes the gluten production. Take a corner and stretch and fold, make a quarter turn and repeat, do this 4 times total then cover and let rest 25 minutes and repeat 3 times resting between each stretching session.
Now it goes into the refrigerator covered (I will admit to using plastic wrap here, which I reused later) for 48 hours. This seems like overkill but I dunno. I think you gotta do this. You may need to bop this down if it’s getting too big for its britches…I mean bowl.
After that you have to let the dough come to room temp or 65 degrees. I used a thermometer to temp it and it took over 3 hours to do this (Of course it was -5 outside)
When it’s reached 65 degrees you portion it out and shape the loaves. I put mine on that miserable bread pan to which my bread bonded. I had floured it but next time I will spray Pam on it or use parchment strips. Now it needs another long, say 1.5-2 hour rise. I covered it with that same plastic and a linen towel.
Preheat the oven to 475, or 450 on convection. I have aluminum pans with lava rock into which I pour boiling water so the interior of the oven is steamy. And then I cut the loaves and spray them with water like you use when you iron. Oh, like you iron.
Put the loaves in the oven and after 5 minutes turn them around and spray them again. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. And then pry them off the pan and let them rest for at least 2 hours.