Saturday, August 22, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 14—French Bread Ooh la la

We went international again in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, this time au français. French Bread, ooh la la!

I'm baking my way through Peter Reinart's award winning book along with 200+ other amateur bakers. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

Peter Reinhart describes this as a "lean, standard dough; indirect method, commercial yeast". Translation: it doesn't contain added fat or sugar, has less water (lower hydration percentage); it uses a preferment (in this case a pâte fermentée), with instant yeast (as opposed to a wild yeast/sourdough).

This is the pâte fermentée, warming up a bit before adding to the rest of the ingredients. This preprement is basically a French bread dough all on it's own. The reason you make this ahead is to develop the flavor and bring out the natural sweetness in the flour. Because this is a lean dough, you're not relying on sugar or eggs or fat for flavor; it all needs to com from the flour.

My pâte frementée was a bit slack and sticky, but it's easy to adjust hydration during the rest of the mixing process.

I actually had three pieces but had already shaped one into a baguette. I handled the dough more than I should have and it was resisting the shaping. I had a feeling I was creating some dense loaves, but soldiered on.

I bought a baguette pan months ago with some fun money I had set aside, so I decided to put it to use rather than bake on a stone.

Slashing the dough adds decoration, but it also releases some of the trapped gas. Reinhart explians,
"Often, they protet against trapped gas making tunnels or caverns in the bread. When done artfully, the cuts greately enhance the line of the bread. Strong lines, weather straight or curved, are a hallmark of all food presentation."

I've tried many different kinds of knives, making sure they were sharpened right before using, but they still wanted to tug at the dough. That makes for less attractive scores and degasses the dough. I've found that the best, easiest and cheapest method is using a razor blade. They're super sharp, easy to find at any hardware or big-box store and cheap.

The bread turned out reall good, for the most part. I made a few mistakes which made for less asthetically pleasing bread, even though the taste was great.

First, I man-handled the dough and it made for a dense crumb. Second, I mis-read the directions and had the oven set too low. This meant a much lighter colored crust that I would have liked.

Overall though, it was delicious. With some practice (and following directions), this will be an amazing bread.


  1. Looks like you are learning right along with the rest of us...still a fabulous lookin' loaf!

  2. This baguette pan looks so cool. I was thinking of getting one, too, but I think I have spent way too much money on kitchen tools lately ;o).

  3. That's the beauty of this challenge, I guess... we are all learning.

    I am planning on re-making several of the breads, because I made too many "small mistakes" in their preparation. Or because I want to try a variation of the recipe.

    I have a similar baguette pan, should have used it, but completely forgot about it (sigh)

  4. Your baguettes look yummy. They are next for me for BBA.

  5. Just finished French Bread last night! Your loaves look fabulous. I think mine could look a little better - but they taste awesome! Happy Baking!

  6. I have not made the french bread yet. Reading your post gave me some great tips to use when I do make it. Great idea to go back and read the beginning of the book again. It's so true. Your baguettes look wonderful. Great slashing. That's the part I'm most excited/nervous about.

  7. This looks yummy. I need one of those baguette pans too! Where'd you get yours?

  8. Thanks everyone! I need to practice my shaping skills so that I don't lose all of the lovely air pockets. :)

    tasteyeatsathome - I got the pan at Amazon. Here's the link (and I'll add a link to the post, too)

  9. I have been considering getting the baguette pan for convenience and it seems it really works well. Your loaves look wonderful.

    I bought a small box of very thin double-edged shaving blades from the grocery store and they work really well for slashing breads.:)

  10. your bread looks nice, i guess it tasted good.

  11. I love when the slashes dip in a little like they do in your bread. They look fabulous.

    I too bought a baguette pan, but it was on a whim when we were in France. I actually have an Italian Bread pan from like ten years ago that I never use anymore, so maybe I will use that with the next bread.

  12. Hi,
    does this baguette pan actually go in the oven with the baguettes? Or is this pan for proofing the baguettes only?

  13. ap269 - You bake right on the pan. Check out the first picture to see what the pattern the pan leaves on the bottom - it's very cool! AND there's no need for a baking stone because the design of the pan allows all sides to get nice and crispy. It's a really handy pan!


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