14 BBA: French Bread

French BreadThis is by far, the BEST french bread I have ever tasted. I imagined myself in Paris, cutting into a crusty loaf, and savoring in the tender crumb that has just a hint of sweetness. I could eat an entire baguette and not feel one ounce of remorse. It's that good.

The Bread Baker's Apprentice
and the challenge from Pinch My Salt has taught me so much about baking bread. The book is worth every penny....and worth making this bread.

The story of this bread begins with a pate fermentee, which is a pre-ferment.

Basically flour, salt, yeast and water made into a dough that sits in your fridge for up to 3 days. (or freezer for up to 3 months!)

The longer you let it sit, the better the flavor is!

The pre-ferment is taken out of the fridge and cut into 8-10 pieces.

Cover it with plastic wrap and let it get to room temperature~ about an hour.

Throw in the pre-ferment with additional flour, salt, yeast and water.

Next time, don't dump all the ingredients in. Flour flew up everywhere! Add the flour, a little at a time or alternate with the water.

I had to knead the flour by hand, as my 6 qt. Kitchen Aid was too large and didn't knead the dough. The dough just kept spinning around, stuck to the dough hook.

Next time, I'll use my trusty 4.5 qt classic Kitchen Aid mixer.

Put into an oiled pan, cover and let rise till double.

This is only after 45 minutes (high altitude, baby).

PR suggests to lightly degas the dough and let it rise again, covered, until it doubles again.

Just when I was ready to shape the dough, my hubby reminded me that we had a viewing to attend.

Interruptions happen. I degassed the dough (punched it down), oiled, covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge. By the time I got home, it was time to go to bed.

The next morning (day 3), I took out the dough, cut it into 3 pieces, covered it and let it come to room temperature, which took 2 hours.

PR suggests to shape the dough into batards prior to shaping into baguettes.

I found this YouTube video are helpful from Northwest Sourdough. She demonstrates how to shape a batard and a boule.

It's all about SURFACE TENSION...which keeps your bread from spreading into flattened pieces of bread...

Flatten the dough slightly. Remember to handle the dough gently.

Take bottom half and bring it up to the middle.

Pinch down to seal.

Take top half and bring it way down to the bottom outside edge.

Pinch all the way around

corner to corner.

Turn seam side down and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to shaping into baguettes.

Turn seam side up.

Do the same thing as in the batard, taking the bottom half and bringing it to the middle, pressing down to seal.

Then take the top half and bring it to the outside edge, pinching seam to seal, corner to corner.

Place dough seam side down on lightly floured surface.

Using the top of your palms and starting in the middle, rock back and forth gently, rolling the dough out to desired length.

If the dough is resistant, cover and let rest for 5 minutes and try again.

Place seam side down on parchment paper.

I used the bottom of my baking sheets to allow the air in the oven to completely circulate around my loaves.

Now scoring, slashing, cutting, or docking, is something that requires practice, practice, practice~ it serves a dual purpose: to allow the loaves to expand during baking (remember all that 'surface tension' is keeping your loaves compact) and protects against having large tunnels or caverns in the bread.

I found a lame (la-may) at my kitchen store for $4. I watched a few YouTube videos and many of them used a straight edged lame, razor or sharp knife.

This curved one is going to take some practice.

PR says to make cuts at an angle, like opening an envelope, using the tip of the lame.

I started on the right, and progressively got better, as the one on the left suggests.

You have to be quick and decisive when making your slashes.

I'm not either. I'm slow and methodical

I probably could have cut a little deeper.

PR says the cuts are distinctive to the particular village or baker.

This is my rustic style!

I baked these for 20 minutes, with the steam and sprays at the beginning.

I could hear the baguettes 'singing' (crust makes crackling sound) as the bread was coming out of the oven. I waited patiently for 40 minutes to slice into it...

I was happily pleased with the crustiness, the open holes in the bread, and overall, the natural sweetness that did not come from sugar, but during the fermentation process.

How did I get these holes? By listening to Peter Reinhart:

"Handling it gently, retaining the gases during shaping, [to] promote large, irregular holes that release maximum flavor."

I store my artisan breads in a micro perf bag. It is a poly bag that has millions of tiny holes, or perforations in it.

I talked my friendly Harmon's baker into selling me 10 bags for $1.50.

It keeps the bread crusty until you are ready to eat it~

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