Yay!!! Bread. I was sooo very excited when I saw that we would be baking bread for February's Daring Bakers Challenge. I had anticipated some amazingly delicious chocolate-y confection in keeping with the Valentine's Day/February theme. And I fully expected that I, as a vegan, would not be able to replicate the challenge with my dietary constraints.
So imagine my delight when I saw that we would be baking french bread, something I would not have to veganize. (This month, my sympathies go to the gluten-free in our group.)
Then I copied the recipe and put it into a MS Word document, and it was THIRTEEN PAGES LONG!!!! Apparently it's eighteen pages in Julia Childs' cookbook. Talk about intimidation. Suddenly I wasn't so excited. So I procrastinated, and put it all off until yesterday. (Actually, my mom is here for a visit, so I kind of forgot about the challenge in the flurry of getting ready for her visit.)
Most of the text discusses kneading techniques and it all seems very complicated until you actually do the work. Watching the PBS episode where Julia bakes french bread with Danielle Forestier helped to understand some of the directions. I felt very confident and happy at the outset of the process. But my baking experience wound up mimicking the Saturday Night Live - Julia Child skit more than the PBS episodes. As I gathered my ingredients together I wound up breaking the glass container which housed my all-purpose flour and as I was gathering that mess together I cut my index finger, rather deeply I might add.
Now I had blood spurting all over my kitchen (a la SNL). I probably should have gone to get it stitched, or whatever they do these days, but the two or so hours I would have had to invest at the emergency room would have meant no bread. (On the other hand, I could have stopped at the grocery store and bought more flour. Oh well.) After I finally staunched the flow of blood, and cleaned up the mess in my kitchen, I was way behind schedule, and didn't have the right ingredients. Waiting until the last day to bake my bread meant that I had to work with what I now had in stock... King Arthur's White Whole Wheat... I knew I wasn't going to get the results we were striving for, but what else could I do?
I was very pleased with the way my dough turned out. Even before the baking process... there is something so satisfying about making bread; I always feel like I am nurturing my family on the most basic level. I learned a few things about kneading dough, not the least of which is that you really need all your digits to knead effectively!
My process went smoothly, however my dough didn't rise quite as high as expected (the white wheat flour, I presume). We had many options regarding the shaping of the bread and I chose the basic french bread loaves. The bread wound up being dense and hard and far too salty, but it looked good. Sometimes appearances are enough to compensate for a lack of substance, but that's usually not the case with food!