Sunday, November 1, 2009
#14: French Bread
Two main thoughts about French bread: 1st, it made me feel like a real bread baker and 2nd, wow, that was a lot of work!
For French bread, you make a pâte fermentée, which pretty much just means you make the bread, let it rise, stick it in the fridge overnight, and then make the exact same bread again, using the old bread (the pâte fermentée) as a starter. The fermenting/proofing time is especially important in this one in order to develop the proper flavor. (I love the giant bubbles in the picture above; it looked almost like a face in the surface of the dough when I pulled it out of the fridge this morning...appropriate for the day after Halloween!)
This one is all pretty simple: flour, yeast, salt, and water.
I couldn't ever get the windowpane or achieve the desired temperature while kneading, but the dough felt right and I kneaded it for at least twice as long as I was supposed to. I decided to move along.
My dough rose in only an hour; unlike other breads, where you'd just continue along with the process, because the proofing time is so important for flavor-development, I actually needed to degas the dough and then let it rise again to achieve the proper two hour rise.
The shaping was not nearly as scary as I was anticipating. The dough was really easy to work with and it was especially easy to see the surface tension that Peter Reinhart talks about during the shaping stage.
We had a hard time determining if the shaped bread had risen enough on my make-shift couche, but it was getting close to bed time so we decided to move things along.
Luckily hubbie found an exacto blade to use for scoring the bread. I'd never done anything like that, and it was interesting. I think it went best on my middle loaf. The other two weren't so great, but I'll do better next time!
I also realized as we were getting ready to transfer the shaped loaves onto the baking stone that I forgot to make sure the oven (and therefore the baking stone) had been heating for a full hour. Oops! It was definitely easier to do the hearth method with another set of hands to help, although it was still hectic and we managed to forget to cover the oven door glass with a towel; luckily we did not hear the cracking sounds that Peter Reinhart warns about!
The results: after twenty minutes, my loaves weren't as dark as they were supposed to be, but the temperature was absolutely perfect. I was right that I hadn't scored them very well; the lines are very fine and they don't have that split of traditional French bread. Forty (loooooong) minutes later, and we were able to cut in - or break it, more accurately. Hubbie's comment, "Hey, it doesn't taste like crap white bread." Um, thanks. Seriously, though, the flavor is very complex...which is a pretty big comment for me because I don't usually think of myself as having a very discerning palate. I think it's denser than it was supposed to be, not quite as many big holes as I was anticipating.
But yum, I would definitely make this again.
**Update: Apparently hubbie would have me make it again as well, as the bread has been ready to eat for 16 minutes and one of the three loaves is gone. Um, yeah.