Back to Basics: French Bread (Julia Child’s Recipe)

We hadn’t been to the grocery store in like 4 weeks.  Being out of town the last 2 weekends contributed to it and we’re pros at eating random stuff for dinner, like chips and Cool-Aid.  Well, I can’t exaggerate too much, we still had our CSA share that provided us with fresh veggies to nosh on (yay to tomato season!), and some chicken sausages in the freezer.  So, instead of going to the store to pick up some of the staples, I decided to try my hand at making it myself!  I thought, with a freshly baked loaf of bread, pickled veggies from the week before, and maybe a can of beans or something with protein, we’d have a full meal (crazy flavor profile though, and no, I am not preggers).

Who better to learn how to make French bread from than Julia Child?  After reading 5 times the 10 page instructions from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2 (yup, she’s extremely detailed and it’s a little bit complicated), I turned on the heat in the house and mixed together the 4 ingredients:  flour, salt, water and yeast.  Isn’t it crazy that you can make something so yummy and substantial with less than a handful of ingredients?  And yes, the weather has turned and is now a bit chilly here in Chicago!

With my baby hands, I kneaded and kneaded, which I found rather therapeutic.  I guess I have some pent up tension (maybe about work, maybe about the hubby, maybe about the messy condo)!  Then it was wait time.  5 hours or so for the 1st rise in the laundry room, since that is the only place that would stay around 70 degrees consistently, and then overnight on the kitchen counter for the 2cd rise (lower temp, longer time, and perfect since it was bed time).

The next morning I woke up to a full bowl of dough, a yeasty smell in the condo, and a very interested puppy (that black blob at the left corner of the picture is Priam).  I rushed to shape it into long loaves (not as long as a baguette, but perhaps a batard) before the start of a busy day with meetings, errands, and friends.  I cut the dough into 3 equal pieces, then shaped each piece into a log.  The instructions call to fold the near side to the far side and pinch the dough together (I flipped it over so that you can see it in the picture).  Then you roll it out into a long log and let it proof (or rise for a 3rd time) for 2 1/2 hours, so off to the laundry room it went and off to my morning meeting.

After a productive meeting and a trip to the Wooden Spoon for a pizza stone to bake on, I came home and started baking.  The excitement of baking bread enticed my friend Jodi, so she joined in on the fun and I gained a photographer!

The loaves were supposed to triple in size when I came back, but looked to only have doubled.  I always have trouble on this step whenever I do anything with yeast.  Was it because the laundry room wasn’t tempered enough?  Was it because I let it rise too much in the first 2 rises beforehand and the little yeast buddies didn’t have anything else to give?  I read that it might be ok to not have tripled and instead will puff up in the oven, but it didn’t do that either.  Any tips or thoughts?

Well, the bread turned out just fine, and not only did we now have bread for the week, so did Jodi!  The baking process was one of the most complicated that I’ve ever done.  You had to turn out the loaves a certain way so that it would be on the pizza stone sticky side down.  In order to get that crust on the bread, you have to spray the bread every 3 minutes with water and simulate a baker’s oven with a hot surface to bake on and creating a burst of steam when it goes in the oven (thus the pizzza stone and throwing ice cubes into a pan of bowling water on the bottom shelf of the oven).  For better and more detailed instructions, check out the Smithsonian blog and Team Julia.

So, FYI basic does not equal easy, but it sure is tasty with some butter!


7 thoughts on “Back to Basics: French Bread (Julia Child’s Recipe)

  1. maryannk says:

    Wow. I am major impressed. I think if I was going to try and make bread for my family, I’d do “Easy White Bread” or “Easy Brown Bread” from the Joy of Cooking – still uses yeast and kneading, but doesn’t take so much proving! But wow, you have definitely inspired me to try this…one day, when I don’t have a baby at my heels. 🙂 I would love to take a bread-baking course so I would understand it better… my pizza crust is hit and miss.

    • Patti says:

      Definitely try, I’m sure Evelyn can help! Are there places you can take cooking / baking classes in Drogheda? I just bought a Groupon for a bread baking class for 2, trip to Chicago any time soon?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s