I’d just begun my foray into blogging and hitting up other blogs when I spotted my first sign of Daring Bakers. It was on Quirky Cupcake and I began to notice the tell-tale stamp on people’s blogs.
Who were these people that got these cute little marks? Why were they so special? “We knead to bake” Why! So do I! So, the most important question then became… where could I get one? How do I sign up?
But, oh! The infinitely wise puptart, who had spent many weeks before me stalking foodies already knew. She was able to point me in the right direction and I saw that the few blogs I’d visited were just a handful of the veritable army of DBers in existence! I wanted in! With a few simple emails, all I had to do was wait until the beginning of February. Then… the first mystical recipe would be revealed to me. I would then have a month to complete the challenge, hoping and praying I could keep my mouth shut for this period of time to my adoring blog fans. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you. I was ready to spill the beans many times over. But, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. No one ever really does when it comes to experiments like these. And so, my challenge began!
This month the challenge was cohosted by Breadchick Mary and Sara and they decided, of all things, that they would pick Pain Francais (French Bread) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child. Just my
fucking *ahem* luck, the ONE item I have been dreadfully afraid of, bread made with yeast, as the first challenge. But, I wasn’t the only one. The boards were adither with people both excited and frightened. Afterall, this was a recipe placed by the cooking goddess, Julia Child. Surely it was manageable. But, still! BREAD! With YEAST! Oy… I think I felt a migraine coming on. I had been so excited to be joining up, I just hadn’t been aware that they were going to actually be making me WORK for the title of DB. Couldn’t I just smile and look pretty and make a fluffy little cake that would taste so delicious it would bring tears to my mother’s eyes? No? Well, damn. Seemed I had no choice. I was either going to make that darn french bread or die trying. And I was seriously hoping that the second option wasn’t really on the table.
At first, I will admit, I shuffled my feet. The recipe was so LONG! I put it in a word document to read at my leisure. It was 14 pages long!!! How was I going to get through this?! It was going to take me a month just to read the recipe. I know I skimmed it and already began to express my doubts. The reason the recipe seemed so long was because Mary and Sara were being overly helpful, which isn’t a bad thing. But it just made things seem all the more intimidating! And I had already found a potential hurdle. The recipe stated that the dough should rest and rise in temperatures no more than 70F. Double OY! I live in a tropical island in the Caribbean. Even in the dead of winter we barely creep under 70F. How the heck was I going to accomplish that? Mary suggested that water baths at the proper temperature would work just as well. I wasn’t convinced. Seemed more work than I was willing to put up with. So, of course, I was going to cheat. No one would know, right? (So said the girl on the blog read by several dozen people daily, and which over 500 DBers were going to possibly show up to read about her adventure! HA!)
So, with all 14 pages of instructions in tow, I headed to my hometown for a long weekend. I figured my mother’s oven and kitchen was better equipped for this challenge. I was very right. I would never have been able to pull this off in my tiny oven. My mother griped when I hit her up to get me some of the ingredients and products I would need, but luckily she was rather supportive. We went shopping and that evening I decided I was going to get to work. You see, I reasoned that night time was the coolest hours of the day and I would be able to get my work done. How hard could a recipe with only 4 ingredients be? Famous last words…
Alright, so! Three and a half cups of flour went into the bowl, with 2 1/4 teaspoons of salt. The 1 1/4 cup of water was set aside as I set aside time to proof some yeast. I never realized the little packet was so intimidating. I read and reread the instructions. I thought I’d have it down. I did it just as Mary and Sara and Fleischmanns told me! Does watched yeast just not rise? Well, it sort of frothed and boy did it stink. I gagged a little as I poured in the yeasty water and mixed it all in. As it came together and rested, I’d already decided I wasn’t liking this adventure at all. Why did I feel like I was setting up to fail?
I slapped it and I kneaded it, I pushed and I worked it for so many minutes I lost count. My mother was doubting the dough. I didn’t blame her. I couldn’t yet defend the results. Luckily it came time for the first rise and my first tylenol break. By now I sort of understood puptart’s helpful bread suggestion about it feeling like a baby’s bottom. So, I put it in a greased bowl and willed myself not to peek for at least an hour.
Believe it or not, all 3 were taken an hour apart. Oy…
I thought I had seen some expansion, but I guess it was the dough gooing over. But after six hours it certainly wasn’t the triple volume it was supposed to be. I had failed… Was it the yeast? The flour? The sugar? The kneading? What else was there? I really didn’t know. But I spent many hours awake pondering my failure. It felt like a greek tragedy.
I’d been leaving myself notes while working so I could later blog about it. It had been 5am when I gave up on my first attempt. My mother thought my last note sounded angry. I felt bewildered. I followed the instructions! Why hadn’t it worked? But there had been so many factors for failure that I had to now go back and figure out what it was. For whatever reason, we don’t make French bread in Puerto Rico. Maybe it just couldn’t be done. My mother may be right about that last part, but I just had to try it all again.
I had begun my first attempt with an impending sense of doom. This failure thing sucked. This would be the first recipe in which I’d completely failed a recipe. I didn’t even get to complete it by baking it. Instead I just tossed it all out when I woke up after about 4 hours of sleep (It was still flat).
I was wishing that I had gotten another 3 pack of yeast. For the first attempt I had tried out two. One hadn’t doubled and I had left it to watch it as it foamed and bubbled. I’d used the second packet in the dough and, as we already know, that didn’t work out either. So, that meant I was down to my final attempt. So, I tried again. The smell of hot yeast was making me gag again. Or was it just me being so upset with myself over not being able to get this right?
No dice. The yeast was just NOT activating, Could all 3 packages have been defective? I followed all the proofing instructions. There was no confusing the “when mixture doubles, yeast is active.” I need more yeast research and knowledge. We will go troubleshooting by probability and error, Sugar and yeast are fine. That only leaves the water. Was I putting it in too hot and killing the yeast?!
This was the moment I felt INCREDIBLY stupid because of my reading and conversion skills. 100 degrees in a chemist’s world is the point in which water boils. HOWEVER, what the pretty bombshell forgot was that this was in Celcius and silly American yeast packages were in Farenheit.
100C is approximately 212F.
DAMMIT IT TO FUCKING HELL!
My mother is refusing to let me live it down. I am now known as the “yeast killer”. I needed a nap at this point.
This one starts out with my mother giggling at me. Actually, make that openly laughing at me while pointing to all 8 packages of yeast she bought for me while I slept and how none of them said to use boiling water.
By the time the yeast FINALLY activated correctly, I no longer had any baker’s pride. I was a “seasoned” pro at the kneading. I used my inner frustration on the dough. The day was humid so it was feeling rather sticky. But I persevered even though it was raining (Of COURSE *I* would pick a rainy weekend to make bread! ha!). I just worked a little more flour in until it felt right.
Meanwhile my mother was wondering how I was going to be able to blog about my failure. Well, that’s easy. I knew that with over 500 DBers out there, someone else HAD to have gone through something like this too. Maybe not now but at SOME point in their baking. And I doubted all these kind folks would come to make fun of me. At least I was admitting to my failures and willing to learn from my mistakes.
Second rise: tylenol and rereading the instructions for the work ahead. I wasn’t really sure which of the many shapes I was going to try out. So I had to read them all very carefully in order to get it all figured out. My mother was still wondering how I was STILL planning on writing about all my turmoil. I reminded her that I was a scientist. It was my duty to report things as they turned out and not how they were supposed to work out. As I was working, it became very clear that my mother, who I was now calling my DB accomplice, was going to be a huge hurdle in keeping quiet about my task. Lordie was she telling everyone she encountered. Now, I didn’t mind really as long as she never told anyone who followed my blog. When she did and I confronted her about it, that led to a very nasty argument and it ended on the apparent notion that I was trying to shut her up and censor her. Oy…
Final rise: I set my little balls into the living room because I knew the kitchen and dining area get too hot once I turned on the oven. And I knew I’d be turning the oven on pretty soon. I decided this was the best time to shower. I’d been covered in flour all day. I rushed back to my instructions in my towel because I couldn’t remember when I was supposed to slash them. But, I was cool, that came later. So… I showered.
While I showered, I’d decided that I wanted to make the round loaf. If these little rolls worked out, I was going to immediately start again. With that in mind, I was going to use my petit pains to appease my curiosity. So they got slashed, moistened with water, then sprinkled with herbs and/or sesame seeds. They were looking down right gorgeous and I was beginning to feel so very proud of myself.
I did the whole moistening the bread for every 3 minutes for 3 times. In order to make the oven (set at 450F) all steamy, I put a pan of ice cubes in just as I put the tray with the bread. Just as I was about to close the door, I tossed in warm water. They baked for 25 minutes, but I probably should have baked them 5 minutes less and turned the pans a lot sooner than I did. Still! They came out just fine. In fact, in my mother’s and my opinion, it was perfect. We prefer stuff to be more on the burnt side of things.
We reasoned that because they were smaller they really didn’t NEED so long. An hour was long enough! The first bite was …. amazing! When the crunch hit a spot with the sesame seeds… no words exist to describe their deliciousness! My mom reasoned that each roll she ate cost her about $10 dollars. I told her it was a delicacy!
“48 hour French Bread”
It seems I am far more masochistic than I am willing to admit. I’m a glutton for punishment, I swear. It was about 11:45pm. In 24 hours I had failed and suceeded. However, because I had REALLY wanted sesame seeds on those silly french rolls, I now HAD to start all over again. Mary and Sara had been most insistent in saying that one loaf had to be made plain. I probably could have gotten away with it if one little roll had been left plain. But, my brain wasn’t working. I mean, seriously?!, what
insane person would go through all this trouble and then be willing to start all over again?! Well, it seems I’m just that sort of person. Please, I beg of you not to think unkindly of the DB challenges and institution. No, the fault for all this hard work and craziness was my own. However, I was running on a high. I’d FINALLY completed it. The end and vindication of my baking pride was sweet…. and damn tasty! If I worked through the night the loaf would be ready for the following day’s breakfast. What could be better?
I worked in fine form. I knew what I was doing and didn’t even have to look at the instructions. I had regained my confidence. That yeast and dough did not stand a chance. It was going to be perfection, I could feel it in my bones! Allow me to fast forward to the highlights of the night.
2AM: first rise went by without a hitch. The dough seemed less sticky but it was no longer raining. I felt like I was perpetually covered in flour and dough. Would I be getting any sleep that night? I wasn’t sure.
4AM: Who needs to set an alarm when you have the thought in the back of your head that you need to turn our the second rise. My brain was fuzzy at this hour, so I actually had to take the instructions out and remind myself of what came here since it was the big loaf I was working with.
6:30AM: Bread was finally shoved into the oven after geting the cross slices. The steam tecnique I used for this one was leaving a pan in the bottom rack while the over preheated. I then proceeded to dump ice cubes into the pan right before closing the door. Also, I had a little mishap when shifting the loaf and my pretty round load was suddenly looking quite oval.
Since I was the only one awake and too tired to bother, I knew the loaf would be able to wait safely. But, just in case, I wasn’t taking any chances…
Final Review: The bread just tasted delicious. The little rolls had semi survived the night. They hardly needed any butter. Since I sealed them away, they lost some of their outer crunch but they were so soft and tender. I am am so damn proud of my large loaf. The top looked like a fleur de lis. I gave it a final brushing with water once out of the oven and I was so amused by the way it steamed. Way cool effect. I slept until breakfast, about 4 hours later. It was a beautiful thing to wake up to that bread that morning. It was chewy, soft…. just wonderful. I think I had tears in my eyes in joy. My mother and little brother agreed. My grandparents were so impressed and my aunt thought I should take up making bread for a living. My mother also thought that I’d made the bread slightly oval on purpose. So, like, y’all pretend like I TOTALLY did it on purpose, okay?! Overall, the recipe was not that complicated. The length really required so much explanation because to do an action properly requires a sentence or two. I’m really glad that I did the challenge and I didn’t give up. I don’t know if I did it truly right… and if the french bread is all proper as it should be, but I’m still gosh darn happy with the results (notice how I don’t curse when I’m happy only when I’m frustrated?). The same with Cupcake Hero, I truly seem to persevere through adversity. So, I may make a Daring Baker yet…
PS: You know you are a foodie when you need to take a picture of it before you actually get around to eating it.