The French Bread Challenge

Since I’ve started my Artisan Bread Baking class, I’ve been anxious to make some sourdough French bread.  I felt a little practice at home might help me in class.  Upon reflection, I should have waited until we got to that lesson in class.  What was I thinking?
The weekend before this experiment, I made a sourdough starter and let it sit for the week. The mixture of flour and milk bubbled and soured. It had a good sour aroma and the bubbled “sponge” look that you want.  It was ready for use.

Sourdough starter in bowl

Starter Mix

I had decided on a Sourdough French Bread, short method recipe from an old cookbook titled, “Cookbook of Breads,” by Sunset publishers. But, when I flipped the page, I saw Corn French Bread. I thought using corn meal as part of the flour mixture sounded interesting and I like the texture of corn meal.  I’ll blame that on my Southern roots.  Maybe my thought process was not so clear….

Making S-d FrBread in bread bowl

The basics to start with: warm water, yeast, starter &  flour.

I mixed the ingredients, covered my old bread bowl, and popped it in a warm oven to let double in bulk. Having used a “proofer” at the school kitchen, I though popping this in a warm oven was the thing to do. Now, I’m not so sure.  The proofer creates an environment so that your dough rises quickly – no hours of waiting like you have in a home kitchen.

Bread dough rising in warm oven

The dough doubled nicely.

After the doubling in bulk, you then add one cup of cornmeal that has some soda in it.

Decided to make S-d Corn FrBrd-RecipeCorn meal added to first rise of dough

Corn French Bread?  Never heard of it, never thought of it, until I saw it in the old cookbook.

I mixed until the dough came together by folding in the corn meal. The dough was then turned out onto my counter for kneading.

Cornmeal folded in and dough pulled togetherDough ready for kneading

Did the corn meal make these pictures turn yellowish?  I should have known this was not going to work.

The dough looked so inviting. It needed to be kneaded! As I was kneading, I added sprinkles of flour to control the stickiness. It was kneaded until satiny – approximately 8 minutes.

Dough kneaded in ball

The satiny ball of dough and positive thoughts.

I divided the dough into 2 parts for 2 loaves of bread and pinched off the end of one loaf to make a little tester size.

Dough shaped into loaves

Shaped French Bread loaves.

The tray was placed in a warm spot for rising – again my Torrey Hill Kitchen warm oven. As the larger loaves were rising, I decided to take the tester loaf after about an hour and process it. I put a few slashes in the top, brushed it with butter and proceeded to bake it off in my other oven. Here is what the tester loaf looked like.

Mini tester baked brushed with butterMini tester sliced

Mini tester loaf – baked, brushed with butter and sliced.  Tasted good but was a bit on the crunchy side!

I could tell after slicing the tester that this corn meal thing was not going to work. It brought back horrible memories of my first attempt at baking bread when I was a teen.  On that particular day, that particular loaf was shaped for the standard bread pan.  It never rose and was like a brick when I baked it off.  I was so angry I just threw it out into our backyard.   It was so hard the birds couldn’t even peck it open. It probably broke some of their little beaks.

Second rise loaf shape flat

They went in the wrong direction for rising!

After 2 hours the larger loaves had spread out, but not risen as I had hoped. Something went wrong with this experiment. I continued on knowing that the breads weren’t really going to rise any further. I gave some passing thought to just gathering up the loaves and kneading the dough again.  What’s another 2 hours to wait?  However, I was ever-hopeful that everything would work out just fine – a flavorful bread, with some texture, edible, but just a little flat.

Ready for oven-flat

I made my diagonal slashes and brushed the loaves with butter and placed them in the oven.

Flat fr brd loaves baking-oh so flat

They baked, but remained flat. Oh…so flat!

Baked almost looks risen2

Looks hopeful from this angle.

Baked-the real story flat as pancake

The real deal – not even the height of a large bagel!

I will present one of the loaves to my Artisan Baking Class. I am sure that the Chef or classmates will fill me in on what went wrong.

Baked from above1

Bread baking can be fun and relaxing. For me, on this particular day, it was a test of skill and patience.

Bread end on tray

Seriously… maybe I need to head to France for a lesson?

Respectfully, Susan

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