Feb 29 08
by cara
at 11:22 AM
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Julia Child’s French Bread

This is my first month being a part of the Daring Bakers, a super-cool group of bloggers who take on new and exciting baking challenges each month.  In past months, they’ve tackled Lemon Meringue Pie and Yule Logs.  February’s challenge was Julia Child’s French Bread, hosted by Breadchick Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like to Cook.  Many people are wary of baking bread.  I’ve successfully baked yeast bread before, so I wasn’t too concerned….until I saw the length of the recipe.  It is 15-17 pages long, and can be found here.  A very daunting first challenge indeed!

I noticed that the hostesses for the month indicated that the best type of flour to use for this recipe was french style flour, which is a lower gluten all purpose flour.  King Arthur Flour was mentioned, so at the beginning of the month, I headed on over to the King Arthur Flour website (which I love) to order some flour…..and noticed it was sold out.  Out of stock until February 14.  Yes, the best indication that the Daring Bakers are baking up bread this month is when a certain type of flour is sold out.  Craziness!  That’s when I knew that being a Daring Baker is serious business.  I went ahead and order some, knowing that it might not be here in time to complete the challenge by month’s end.  In the meantime, I found some flour at the grocery store that seemed to be similar in gluten content.

The next big challenge for me was timing.  The recipe indicates that it takes 9 hours from start to finish since the bread requires three separate rises.  With a needy six month old son who is currently going through a “don’t set me down ever ever ever or I’ll screech like you are pouring boiling hot acid all over me”, I figured I’d probably have to wait until the weekend when my husband was around.  Then my husband told me at the last minute he was going out of town for work one weekend.  Grr!!  But somehow, I found the time, sacrificing some sleep in the name of good bread.

My first attempt at the bread was a complete failure.  The dough never made it pas the first rise.  After reading through the recipe again, multiple times, I realized that I may have killed the yeast by using water that was too hot.  Stupid mistake, easily preventable.

The second attempt fared a little better.  A new day, a fresh start.  I very carefully tested the temperature of the water with a thermometer.  The dough made it past the first rise.  Hizzah!  But the second rise was a little lackluster, and took way too long.  At that point, I figured I’d already invested quite a bit of time, so I might as well soldier on.  After forming my batons, the shape I chose for the bread, the third rise never really happened.  Hoping that maybe the bread would rise in the oven, I went ahead and baked it anyway.  The result, this time at 1 am, was some very hard loaves that were anemic looking.  Bread 2, Cara 0.

For those of you that don’t know me, I can be very stubborn.  (And for those of you who do know me, I know you’re snickering right now….understatement of the year, right?)  And I have trouble admitting defeat.  This can be both a good and bad thing.  For instance, I took Advanced Placement Calculus my senior year of high school, and struggled the whole year, refusing to transfer to the regular Calculus class because that would be admitting that I wasn’t able to handle the AP class.  It was very silly and stupid of me.  But that’s how I was feeling about this recipe.  Frustrated, but not wanting to let the bread win.  I vowed to give it one last shot….

For my THIRD attempt, I bought new yeast, just in case there was an issue with the stuff I’d been using (doubtful because I’d used it recently with success, but I was covering all my bases here).  I bought new flour, because the flour I’d ordered STILL(!!) wasn’t here.  This time, the dough came together, rose, and generally behaved itself.  Success at last!  My husband and I impatiently waited for the bread to cool before digging in.  We both thought it was really good bread.  Really good.  Some Daring Bakers named it the best bread they had ever tasted.  In all the breads I’ve tasted, this one was definitely up there…  And it was still good two days later, reheated.  I’ll probably make this again in the future now that I’ve got this recipe all figured out, but it definitely takes some patience.  Now I’m ready for my next challenge!  You can read all about how the other Daring Bakers fared here.

Oh yeah, and that flour I ordered?  STILL not here…


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  1. I chuckled reading your post. As a fellow mom of an equally needy 9-month old, this was definitely an interesting challenge to make with a baby also screaming in bloody terror every time I set him down. Way to persevere AND do it three times. I am very, very impressed. And I think the final result looks wonderful.

  2. Wow you seriously preservered. I suspect I would have given up; I’m impressed. Interesting that the flour made such a difference–I winged it with KA AP flour–had I realized it could have made such a difference I am sure I would have worried more!

    Your bread looks great.

  3. WTG Cara! Perseverance sure pays off! I love learning from the challenges and never taking anything for granted, it might work once but it always good to know what to look for and learning from others’ experiences is priceless. Your bread did turn out gorgeous!

  4. Your loaves look nice and full – no deflating there. Great job!

  5. WOW- three times and an AWESOME job on your FIRST CHALLENGE!! Congratulations and welcome to the Daring Bakers :O)

  6. Welcome to the Daring Bakers. Your stubbornness and persistence will serve you well throughout our challenges – I once had to make four batches of caramel….

    I hope you will get a chance to try it with the magical flour, to compare the results.

  7. Your bread looks lovely! Great job trying and trying again! Congratulations on completing your first DB challenge and being a Daring Baker!

  8. Your final product looks really wonderful! We made it through our first challenge!

  9. And here I am hoping to manage ONE go at it! Congratulations, and welcome to the DBs 🙂

  10. Well done on your first challenge – the bread looks great!

  11. Great job on the bread. KA Flour is having issues with getting enough wheat due to shortage so they are suffering like all of us bread heads.

    Thanks for baking with sara and I

  12. You kicked that breads butt! Way to go!

  13. Josh permalink

    Do you know why it wanted low gluten flour? That struck me as weird- bread recipes usually want high gluten. Low gluten is usually for cakes and such that are crumb-ier.

    The bread looks awesome!

  14. Wow, three times. And with a little one around. Great job! And the results look beautiful too

  15. Thanks to all of my fellow Daring Bakers for the compliments on the bread. I’m definitely glad I stuck with it!

    Josh-I thought it was a little strange about the flour too, but according to the recipe and notes: “French bakers make plain French bread out of unbleached flour that has gluten strength of 8 to 9 per cent. Most American all-purpose flour is bleached and has slightly higher gluten content as well as being slightly finer in texture. It is easier to make bread with French flour than with American flour.”

    I think the stuff I initially tried was about 6 or 7 percent, hence the problems.

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