Now that I know that my oven temperature is not right I have to adjust the temperature and, apparently, the time. Picture one at the left is the bread in the oven frantically rising. (The two pans on the bottom rack in the picture are lava rock which gets doused with boiling water to create steam, don’t ask me why this is, I am simply following orders, although not Julia’s) Anyway, I made the oven way hotter to something close to what Julia prefers. And the bread rose in a flash.
It also browned way faster than usual (and unevenly, I must say, for a billion dollar KitchenAid [just sayin’] oven) but in the end the bread was even closer to French bread than any other loaves I’ve managed to accomplish in the past even if it was only in the oven for 15 minutes instead of the usual 25. So I dunno, this is maddening.
The problem here is that I’ve made it with the wrong temperature many times and the timing was fine now with the right temperature the timing is waaaay off. Where is Julia when I need her?
I’m gonna goddam make a loaf of French bread that tastes like it was made in France if it kills me…or until I am forcibly committed whichever comes first. And you probably won’t have to force me I’ll go willingly, I’ll freaking skip into the asylum (but in a masculine way).
These are 2 different attempts using 2 different methods. One is Paul Hollywood’s method, the other Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated, well, America’s Test Kitchen anyway, same diff. Neither require a lot of kneading. One rises in a couche, the other on a French loaf pan. One uses a 6 to 24 hour proofed yeast, the other just yeast. One used “strong flour” the other just plain ol,’ They rest for different amounts of time but basically they are very similar. Both require steam in the oven.
And yet, they were pretty much the same and neither one is like a French baguette. They were good but no crispy, crunchy crust with a light and airy crumb, as it were. They both had a chewy crust and a dense crumb.
Third time’s not the charm. French bread again. This time I used regular flour not the $475 a pound flour and it was a vast improvement. But it was a vast improvement when I baked the loaves after 24 hours. When I baked the second batch after 48 hours the crust was not crunchy. It was pretty and it tasted fine but lacked that French baguette crust.
The problem with French bread making is the mysterious nature of it all. Slight variations in amounts, ingredients, temperatures, what socks I have on. It could drive me crazy. Crazier, I mean.
They look magnificent. And they were, in their way. But they were not French baguettes. They were simply good bread.
I made the first batch a few weeks ago following the recipe from Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated. And it was complicated. I really felt way out of my comfort zone and I decided I needed to learn to make bread. Much of the problem about the first batch was not having the “feel” of the bread-making process. Those loaves turned out well, really well, but the process was more anxiety provoking than one might prefer considering one is making something that has been made for eons with little-to-no anxiety whatsoever. The final product wasn’t, well, baguette-y enough. I think a French person would have eaten them and thought they were fine but I knew better. They were not the bread I’d had in France. So I determined I will continue making the bread but adjusting the various elements, ingredients, procedures until I got it right.
So this time I used less diastatic malt powder. This is the ingredient that makes the crust brown (I have a pound of it, minus 2 tsp), and I assumed, thick. And I reduced the baking temperature to 475 degrees. The last time I set the oven to 500 and though the recipe called for about 15 to 20 minutes of baking time, they were done in about 8 with very dark, thick crusts.
The process of actually making the dough is sorta nothing. You make it then you let it sit for a few days in the refrigerator. Once it’s sat for enough time the real work begins. It’s not unlike going to Catholic mass. Stand up, sit down, wait, ringing bells, stand up, wait, kiss of peace, etc. After about 3 hours of folding turning pinching shaping and a lot of waiting, you pop them in the oven. The baking is almost anti climactic. They were done, they looked fabulous. And they were good.
They just weren’t French baguettes. The crust was less than crusty, sorta chewy.
Next time I will use regular flour. I was using Anson Mills bread flour which at $497 a pound is a little pricy. But now I will find out if just plain old flour makes that big a difference.