The Daring Bakers is a group of bloggers who are very passionate about baking. Every month they take on a challenge set by one member of the group, and the recipe has to be followed to the T except for few allowed modifications. Each member posts the recipe for the completed challenge on the same day, like today.
Why am I talking about the Daring Bakers, well it so happens I am one now! I joined them this month and this is my first challenge.
What makes this group very interesting is that with over 450+ DBers(that’s what we call ourselves) from all over the world, each person’s outcome from the very same recipe is worth waiting for.
The challenge for the month of February was “French Bread” provided by Breadchick Mary( The Sour Dough) and Sara (I Like to Cook). When I first read the recipe (which was 14 pages long including the introduction) I almost lost it! I thought I would never be able to get past the first few steps. Then I read the recipe over and over, and over again. With every reading I felt more confident and stronger within. It really wasn’t as bad as it looked.
I finally got down to baking bread for the first time in my life. I had all the necessary ingredients, equipment and my recipe in print out with the important points and steps highlighted. Sounds like too much hype for a challenge, well it sure wasn’t. I wanted to make sure I got this right the very first time itself. And I guess I did.
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck)
1 package dry active yeast (7gr)
1/3 cup (75ml) warm water (not over 100F/38C)
3 ½ cups unbleached All purpose flour (leveled)
2 ¼ tsp Salt
1 ¼ Cups Water @ 70-74F/ 21-23C
Method: (All instructions are for by hand)
Stir in the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquiefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquiefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.
Combine to form a dough. Turn dough out onto a kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky. Let dough rest for 2-3 minutesUse one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scrapper, or to dip out extra flour.
Knead rapidly for 5 – 10 minutes. Let dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes. Knead by hand for a minute. The surface should now look smooth; the dough will be less sticky but will still remain soft. It is now ready for its first rise. Place dough in a lightly greased mixing bowl, cover with plastic and a folded towel. Let rise for 3-4 hours till dough has tripled in volume.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten the dough firmly into a circle. Return to bowl and let rise again until it is light and spongy.
Forming the loaves:
French loaves come in various shapes and sizes. We were allowed to make any shape, make one plain loaf and the remaining with toppings if desired. I made 2 Batards and 1 Boule.
Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Let pieces rest for 5 minutes, covered.
To make a Batard:
Shape into an oval gently and fold in half lengthwise. Pat into an oval again and repeat folding. Place your hand in the middle of the dough and roll gently to lengthen the dough. Repeat the rolling movement rapidly several times until the dough is 16 inches long, or whatever length will fit on your baking sheet.
Set aside and keep covered while you shape the other loaves.
To make a Boule:
Gently shape the dough into a uniform circle by folding down edges and moving dough clockwise. You should have a smooth rounded top and the underside will be uneven. Pinch to seal the edges.
Cover and let sit for the third rise when it should triple in volume.
Since we were allowed to top all but one loaf, I decided to use some dried herbs on the Boule. I used ¼ tsp Dried Basil, ¼ tsp Dried Oregano and ¼ tsp Dried Thyme.
Preheat oven to 450F atleast 30 minutes before the estimated baking time.
Slash top of each dough with a sharp razor. 3 slashes for the Batard and two or more on the Boule. This helps create designs on the loaves while they are baking. I should remember to use a sharper knife the next time. :)
As soon as the dough has been slashed, moisten the surface either by painting with a soft brush dipped in cold water, and slide the baking sheet onto rack in upper third of preheated oven. The bread should be done in about 25 minutes; the crust will be crisp, and the bread will make a hollow sound when thumped.
Cool the bread for atleast 2 hours on a rack or set it upright in a basket or large bowl so that air can circulate freely around each piece. Although bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cooled.
It took me 10 hours to finally dig into a slice of bread, the efforts were definitely well worth it. While the loaves were baking, the entire house was filled with the heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread….I had never thought I would ever smell bread in my house. The bread was very tasty, the crust was a little too crispy for my liking, but the interiors were perfect-- soft and light.
I’m extremely pleased that this challenge worked out for me. I’m certainly looking forward to the coming challenges!
The complete recipe with detailed instructions can be found over at Mary’s blog here.