Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mellow Bakers: French bread (July)

This is one of my hubby's favorite kinds of bread, so I was excited when I read Hamelman's recipe for French bread, one of the Mellow Bakers' July breads, and saw that this was a quickie: indeed, I started mixing at 12:30 this afternoon, and we were eating supper by 6:00 tonight.

This was a pretty easy recipe, although not everything went as planned.

I mixed the bread flour, water, salt, and yeast briefly, as Hamelman instructs, and then let it proof while folding the dough every 50 minutes. It is so hot here that the second and third folds happened at closer to 40 minute intervals because the dough had risen so much, it was threatening to escape its container.

I then divided the dough into three 250 g pieces (I only made half a recipe, knowing that French bread generally tastes best on the first day, and there was no way we could eat even three baguettes). Following this video that Paul posted made preshaping and shaping so much easier!! I have a really difficult time following the lengthy instructions in the book, so I liked being able to watch while I was shaping.

Then the baguettes rose for another 90 minutes while I preheated the oven. On pg. 76 when Hamelman explains how to shape a baguette, he says "Since the best volume (and arguably the best flavor) is achieved when baking is done directly on the floor of the oven...." So I put my pizza stone on the floor of the oven, and baked the baguettes right on it. This turned out to be a mistake, as the bottoms burned.

We still scraped off the burned bits and ate an entire baguette with our soup for dinner. This was the other odd thing: the bread was really salty. I even went back to check my notes and make sure that I hadn't forgotten to cut the salt when I was halving the recipe, but no, I'd measured correctly. It wasn't so salty that we couldn't eat it, but it just tasted a little odd.

So I don't think we'll be making this one again. I certainly preferred the French bread, Italian bread, or pain à l'ancienne from the BBA. But I felt like it was a great learning experience, and you can't complain about that! And anyway, have you noticed how even the worst home-baked bread (and this wasn't in that category!) generally tastes about a million times better than the best store-bought loaves?

Check out the other Mellow Bakers' French breads here!


  1. That's so strange. Did Hamelman explain what kind of oven he has? It would make sense if he used a brick or hearth oven. It's good to know that PR's french bread is a good one. I still love making his Italian bread~

  2. That looks great, Abby--nice holes. =) Homemade bread is the best. My kids are spoiled now. On the rare occasions that I suggest buying bread or bagels at the store, my 7yo tells me that she'd prefer for me to make it because it tastes better.

  3. The crumb looks great. Too bad you didn't like the taste. We can love everything, though, right? Thanks for pointing out that the loaves burnt when put on the bottom of the oven - I won't follow Hamelman's instructions then.

  4. Hi Abby, I didn't read the bit about putting bread on the bottom of the oven. I can't do it anyway as I have an electric oven with the element in the bottom as well as the top. I've taken to knocking off a gram or two of salt in most bread recipes, as I have hbp and I reckon a gram or two won't make a noticeable difference to taste but might to my health. I don't think JH makes great claims for this bread does he? It's more like included because he thinks it should be there. Well done anyway! :)

  5. Wow, this looks great, inside and out, okay, the burned part doesn't look so great, but the rest does. Nice to know your opinion on this bread as we loved the BBA PR French Bread so figure that one is my "go to" recipe these days. I am way behind on Mellow Bakers, but once fall and winter set in, I hope to do a bunch of catching up...just not excited about turning on the oven so often this time of year. Your efforts are so inspiring, however!

  6. The crumb looks great! It's good to know they are still edible regardless of being too salty.