though not any French bread, but Julia Child's French bread, from volume two of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, compliments of Breadchick Mary (The Sour Dough) & Sara (I Like to Cook), who hosted this month's Daring Bakers' challenge.
I grew up eating (and loving) sfilatini. Later on, I discovered that French people call them baguettes. For the challenge, however, I decided to follow this part of the instructions: "Making clean, sure cuts with a large knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into:
- 2 equal pieces for medium round loaves (pain de ménage or miche only)"
I made the bread twice. As usual, I hit some snags: that's to be expected, otherwise, why would it be called a challenge (sfida)? The dough is quite sticky, so the first kneading was a bit of a struggle. At some point I got nervous and started slapping the dough pretty hard: it was fun for me and good for the dough. Everything went pretty much as detailed in the great instructions that Mary and Sarah provided. The procedure was quite different from others I had followed so far for making bread: the shaping, the flipping before baking, the sprinkling with water while baking. And for a couple of those instructions I accidentally found out what the consequences were of not following: a painful discovery, believe me.
First of all, put a lot of flour on the cloth over which the bread rests before going into the oven. Put more than you think is enough and then add another bit for good measure. I thought I had floured my cloth well but I had not, and the result was a tug of war between me and the cloth that was holding fiercely to the bottom of my beautifully shaped pane. I was able to wrestle it, but the surface showed scars, a testimony to the struggle. This happened during my first try and, when I tried again, I used a lot more flour to prepare the cloth and the bread did not stick to it.
Second, if you are wondering why the oven rack needs to be placed on the top third of the oven, see on this photo what happened to me when I put a rack where it should go, but then put the baking stone with your gorgeous bread on the rack below the right one instead of on it. Fortunately, at the third opening of the oven for the ritual sprinkling of water, I realized my mistake and corrected it, so the rest of the baking occurred with the bread in the right place. As you can see, though, the proximity of the bottom surface to the heat source made it crack. The flavor was not impaired. This happened during my second try and I ascribe the mistake to a bit of hubris (a scholarly way of describing the I-know-what-I-am-doing attitude that can result in how-could-I-have-been-so-silly wonderment when faced with disaster).
While the flavor was good in both attempts, the first one yielded a prettier result. Having a beautiful bunch of flowers available, I took a pane e tulipano (bread and tulip) photo, and also a pane e ranuncolo (bread and Persian buttercup) one.
Make sure you use the Daring Bakers blogroll to guide you to look at the masterworks that were baked around the world by my fellow daring bread-makers. Thanks to our gracious hosts for the nice challenge.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the pane francese audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]