OK, I'm getting a little ahead of myself in my enthusiasm... Let's start back at the beginning, shall we?
When I first visited the Daring Bakers Blogroll, I was instantly in awe of the Daring Bakers concept - hundreds of bloggers around the world, all striving to prepare the same challenging recipe each month, and then sharing their experiences. I am so psyched to now be a member of the Daring Bakers, and to complete my very first DB challenge - Julia Child's French Bread!
I used to bake yeast bread every Friday afternoon, loving how the heady scent ushered in the calm of the weekend. Gradually, however, work, school, and, oh yes, school-work, took over, and my weekly tradition ceased. What could be more wonderful than a return home to bread making?
And what a way to usher yeast breads back into my kitchen... This month's hosts, Breadchick Mary of The Sour Dough (who kindly has posted this month's recipe on her blog) and Sara of I Like to Cook, couldn't have put it better when they called this recipe "Julia's 18 page love poem to French bread." After all, isn't that what recipes really are, at their heart - love poems? Part functional instructions, part poetry and prose, recipes artfully document one of the most fundimental aspects of human existance - the preparing and sharing of food.
In case you're now saying " OK, already, she's digressing again," I'll cease philosophizing at present - time for the bread! At the beginning of the month I scrambled and crammed all week to complete my schoolwork before the weekend (By the way, in case you're new to the sagas of my life and kitchen, I'm in nursing school - after having already checked a variety of careers off the "done that" list - the full list is on your right!) so I could devote an entire uninturrupted Sunday to Bread.
I am presently in awe of the effortlessness of this recipe. One does have to wind their way through the epic instructions, but after a initial read-through and some judicious highlighting -yes, guilty as charged, I am the perpetual student, and I highlight everything - the actual steps are incredibly easy - and even tolerated a few "oh dear, well, I'm just going to have to make do with this" moments.
First morning cup of coffee in hand, I fetched the yeast and faced the reality that the only thermometer present in our kitchen was a large, dial-style analog meat thermometer, with a slightly dubious reputation after an accidental trip in the dishwasher, and no reading below 120 degrees. Since, as I've mentioned in previous posts, tuition fees have left me incredibly broke as of late - even, embarrassingly, too broke to justify purchasing another thermometer - I decided the bread would just have to cope with "somewhat hot" water and "rather lukewarm" water. Either all those years working in labs paid off, and I actually was able to approximate 100 degree water and 70 degree water (not so likely), or the recipe is very forgiving (a more reasonable explanation), because everything proceeded just as though the water had been prepared to a tenth of the correct degree.
The mixture began to gather together, with the promise of eventually forming a dough ball...
A little sticky though, right? Yep, here in the Deep South, it's very humid... And I'd thought it was a particularly dry day for us, too - it's not even raining! Oh well... Add more flour...
And scrape it out of the bowl... so the bowl can be cleaned... (Ya mean I have to wash the bowl by hand?)
Now it's really starting to do something! It's starting to look like grown-up dough already...
(As a side note, this is actually the first time I've used the dough hook on my beloved KitchenAid mixer - having grown up learning to make bread with my grandmother, who definitely is from the pre-dough-hook generation, I just kept on kneading bread by hand, rather habitually, until my mother dryly remarked last week that "perhaps you would make yeast bread more often if you used the dough hook that you have sitting right in your kitchen...")
It's out of the bowl now! Just like Julia said, after a bit of folding it does look just like a cushion.
Time for the first rising... (at this point I'm suddenly thankful for all the rising time, as I dash off to spend a few hours with my anatomy textbook...)
It took 4 hours to triple in size, at which point I gathered up the bowl, carried upstairs, and triumphantly presented it to Zach, who was studying for a radiology test: "Look! It's bigger!" Zach, rather than questioning his girlfriend's abnormal degree of enthusiasm, obligingly peered at the dough, and kindly remarked, "Look at that! Fancy!"
When I turned it out of the bowl to pat it down before the second rising, I realized that this was the most beautiful dough I'd ever felt... Smooth as mist, light as whipped cream, folding it was like touching 400 count thread sheets for the first time.
After the second rising, I discovered a newfound appreciation for ultra-sharp knives... I decided to divide the dough into threes, since there's just the two of us - that way I could freeze two of the loaves and we could have fresh bread 3 times!
At this point, I was practically bouncing with delight. I thought the loaves were so cute, I'm surprised I didn't name them... :-)
Before I knew it, the bread was out of the oven... Once they were cool, I secretly almost didn't want to slice one - but I'm glad we did! The first slice, dressed with melted butter... Heaven.