I think it's a rare North American home cook who can claim to be pristine against the influence of the great Julia Child. I remember watching her show, The French Chef, as PBS repeats: her distinctive sing-songy voice teaching viewers how to make sauces or crêpes or beasts in a way that was very matter-of-fact, but approachable. More importantly, I thought she was having fun.
When our fabulous Daring Bakers hosts, Sarah of i like to cook and Breadchick of The Sour Dough challenged us to make Julia Child's French Bread, I knew this would be a combination of fun and, well...work.
Yes, I'm fully aware of those glorious home bread machines that via prest-o-change-o magic fill homes with scrumptious aromas in three hours. Relatively effortless, all you have to do --apart from measure out the ingredients-- is dump the fixings into the gadget and walk away until it dings its "the bread has loafed" ding. Then all you need to do is cool it, wipe down the inside of the machine and wash the tin. It's a little too sterile for my liking...and truth be told, I usually wind up losing one of the kneading paddles into the crumb, so I end up massacring its underside, pulling out huge wodges of bread in search of a wandering machine part.
I wasn't forced to use the bread machine, something an uncle convinced my parents to get, but being the lazy sort I am, it became very convenient...and a very lah-di-dah excuse to not be lassoed into doing something as exciting as digging my eyes out with the catbox scoop--"Oh no, thanks for the invite, but I really do need to make some bread...yes, I do bake my own...it's terribly complicated...I really can't leave it, even through the second rise...yes, there's more than one rise...it's that sort of thing." Given the bread machine was usually hid under a tea towel, many people never noticed it.
To tell you the truth, there was a bit of me that was happy when the bread machine broke some 10-odd years ago. I'd rather have my hands stuck in a mass of sticky, yeasty and, well, farty dough than letting some dispassionate contraption have all the fun.
Let's face it, breadmaking by hand is not for the feint of heart, nor wimpy of arm. Although not required, a...healthy, if not plumptious physique helps with all that kneading and rolling and slapping and smacking that goes on when taming yeast bubbles. It also helps if you have a wee bit...or a whole bushel-load...of frustrations to work through. Think of the dough as a soon-to-be edible stressball.
If you've ever wanted to make French Bread, this recipe is one to try. Whatever you do, don't be discouraged by its copious notations, nor the total amount of time needed to make this bread from start to finish: Sarah's and Mary's hints, suggestions and clarifications are a fabulous way to calm even the most nervous of novice breadmakers, and well, you really aren't that active for all that breadmaking time (up to nine hours, if you want to know)...most of it is spent letting the dough grow, so you can go about your normal housey antics...cleaning, flitting through blogs, chasing the cat, watching Coronation Street, all of the above...
I was so pleased with my humble little loaf. I knocked on the crust--it had that lovely deep sound a good crusty loaf should have. The outside was a beautifully burnished colour and he crumb was soft and yielding. Fresh, it's delicious with butter and jam. Cut into thick batons and lightly toasted, it's fabulous dunked into (Nigella's) Oeufs en Cocotte.
To read what the other DBs did with this challenge, take a meander through our blogroll.