Saturday, August 29, 2009

France and BBA Challenge #14: French Bread

I have to confess that I was looking forward to this bread until we went to Paris.

And then we went to Paris.

While some of the bread was passable, other was heavenly, and the half loaf of Poilâne Miche we got was absolutely divine. I wanted to eat it by itself, but it also tasted so good with the cheese and the Eggplant Caviar. Here's a picture of the picnic we had on a well-worn bench.

We had Manchengo Cheese, Perrier, Blue Potato Chips, two small bottles of Champagne (the only cold ones in the store), a bottle of Lemonade, a bottle of Trappistes Rochefort 10, a salad, crudite, Eggplant Caviar, a half Poilâne Miche from the boulangerie on rue du Cherche Midi, new Sporks because we forgot to bring our old ones, plus this awesome disposable wooden silverware, strawberry yogurt, raspberries, a cheese plate, and a nice tube of Dijon mustard.

I particularly liked the eggplant caviar. I'd had eggplant pâté before, but this was even more spreadable and even more yummy. Atop cheese, on a slice of the miche. It was just heavenly.

Which prompted us to remember the German saying: "Heute essen wir wie Gott in Frankreich"- Today we eat like God in France. Which, if you are familiar at all with German cuisine, makes way too much sense. There's a great German-language blog written by a Frenchwoman in Germany that takes the name and turns it around: Wie Gott in Deutschland.

On Sunday, everything is supposed to be closed. In Berlin, there are very few places that are still open. Usually, if you want anything, you have to go to a Bahnhof and pay inflated prices for food. Our last day in Paris was on a Sunday, spent walking around Montmartre, so we encountered many closed places, particularly because it was the day after the Assumption. Thanks to Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris by the very talented Clotilde from Chocolate and Zucchini fame, we found a boulangerie in Montmarte that was open. And how!

This is the baguette I carried under my arm and in my hand for a few hours on the Metro and the bus before biting into it on the way back to the airport. We kept tearing off bits of it before stashing it in the carry-on bag just before boarding.

If you are even thinking about going to Paris, you must buy Clotilde's book. We kept referencing it in trying to find places to eat. This, cross-referenced with the little Paris Pratique mapbook, available at most newsstands, and you are all set for gastronomic adventures.

So, this is where we get back to Peter Reinhart's French Bread.

In short. I was spoiled.

So spoiled that I didn't want to make the bread. Nevertheless, the day after we came back, I took a look in the book. French Bread. Oh, god. The last time I made baguettes they were a huge fail.

But after reading many of the Baguette posts from others, I decided to do them anyways. No skipping of recipes, and do them all in order, right Nicole? Here's the pâté fermentée.

One of the things I looked for and actually found was grey sea salt from Brittany. I remembered it from the Miche section in the book. I later found out that I can easily get this in Berlin.

For absolutely no reason other than I thought it would be funny, I stretched out the pâté fermentée strands. Maybe I should have folded them over, but they went into the DLX almost immediately.

Because the DLX works through the magical power of friction, I got a big mess when I added the pre-ferment in with the water.

Thankfully, adding in the rest of the flour was able to bring it back into a sticky ball.

And then a doughy one.

European flours have no malt flour added to them, they're pure flour. Peter Reinhart suggests adding some diastatic malt powder to this recipe if using flour without the added barley flour. I'm a homebrewer, so I have tons malt extract, which is virtually the same thing, kicking around. This is three kilos of the stuff left over from the last brew day. I added it in at the end, but I have the feeling that it didn't get kneaded in all the way.

And like one of those television chefs that prepare a dish and bring out an already pre-made dish seconds later, here is the risen dough, turned over onto a floured board.

And here I am shaping mini-batards into baguettes. The recommendation is to use a light hand and a heavy hand at the same time. This makes me think of the Daniel Clowes' comic "Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron". In any case, handle the dough gently and delicately, but don't let it own you. You are the master of the baguette.

I found some kitchen towels in the pantry that were half linen and half cotton. My eyes grew wide when I saw them. I had been consciously avoiding using them because they looked so new. Well, not anymore. They made wonderful couches for the free form loaves.

Unfortunately, my oven stone is only 30cm by 30cm, and I didn't think I would be able to fit all the baguettes in at one time, so I sort of overproofed these, as you can tell by the scores. Maybe I was a bit too heavy-handed on this.

Still, they came out rather nice, even though I thought they were a bit dark.

Speaking of dark, these don't even hold a candle to the baguettes we had in Paris.

The two on the right were baked first, with uncertainty in the slashing, which is why they look so odd. The ones on the left were baked afterwards, so they were most definitely overproofed. The slashes ran deep into them when they came out of the oven, so there was hardly any oven spring on them, except to return to their original, unslashed, shape.

The crumb was pretty tight, but they were okay, much better than my first attempt last spring, but nowhere near as awesome as- ah, now I'm sounding like a broken record.

Maybe Mr. Reinhart should have put this recipe in the beginning under Baguettes, so that we would have had made them already, and I wouldn't be complaining. Still, I love this Challenge, so, as I type right now, I am making the French Bread again, hoping to improve on the ones above.

If you have a moment, check out some better looking French Bread from:

Mags from The Other Side of Fifty
Deb from Italian Food Forever
Kelly from Something Shiny
Chris from eating is the hard part
Frieda from Lovin' from the Oven

And of course, none of this goodness would have been possible without Nicole from Pinch My Salt.


  1. I MUST find eggplant caviar in Montreal. And, I'll keep you posted on the quality of baguettes I find in the 'Paris of North America'.


  2. Um, WOW! That bread looks absolutely fantastic. I couldn't get the golden crust in mine (although they still tasted fantastic!)

  3. I agree this recipe is OK but can't begin to be considered as good as even a regular corner Paris bakery's bread can pump out, never mind the Big Name ones.

    It's a little painful to think someone who's not had real French bread might make this and think "Oh, so THIS is French bread!" and then wonder what all the fuss is about.

    However, a trip to Paris and some real fresh baked baguette will knock this one out of the park. Add a little crème fraîche and jam and you're in heaven.

    Man, I have GOT to get back there some day.

    Still, I found it was good to get a crack at shaping and baking baguettes, I was a little surprised at how well mine came out. I was expecting them to be a little more tricky to make; baguettes do have a sort of mystical aspect to them.

    If I run into a better recipe, I will give baguettes another try. Otherwise, I'll leave this particular bread to the experts and not try to make a mediocre approximation.

    Of course, that would mean having to zip to Paris to get the bread. I'm working on that.

  4. Just had a Twilight Zone moment...I'm reading your French Bread post, and your comment on my French bread post just popped up.....I'll be back...I'm going to finish reading your post!

  5. Great'll always have Paris and the memories of authentic French bread~ sounds like you have learned enough the first go around to attempt a second try. Would love to see a follow up post~

  6. I love nothing better than great French bread with cheese. YOur loaves look great, but I'm not sure any homemade french bread would equal the taste of bakery made authenic loaf.

  7. I have to disagree with you guys. I thought the baguettes were pretty fantastic tasting (and I lived in Sicily for four years and have tasted bread all over Europe, including Paris). I definitely wouldn't say they are the best baguettes I've tasted, but they definitely compare to the 'artisan bread' I get here in San Diego. I made a few mistakes and even overbaked them a bit, but the flavor was still really good!

  8. Your picnic looks fabulous. I enjoyed my bread, may mistakenly, but I did enjoy it.

  9. I actually love the crust of your loaves. And the picnic sounds fantastic.:)

  10. Your bread's always, always lovely. But I'll always be in love with your mixer.

  11. Interesting post, as always. I just posted my French bread attempt - I think, it turned out ok...