February 29, 2008
A February Daring Baker's Challenge
This month's challenge was thrilling and a little daunting, as we were making artisan style French Bread. To start us off our hostesses are Breadchick of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like To Cook, selected the classic French bread recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 2, by Julia Child and Simone Beck. My excitement was pretty high when I read that we were going to work on a recipe by Julia Child. I have to many fond memories of watching her cooking show on television as I was growing up and I was in the process of reading her autobiography, My Life in France, written with her grand nephew Paul Prud'Homme. However, I was a little daunted because gluten free bread making isn't quite the same as baking with gluten containing grains and it would be a challenge to get the dough to behave for the challenge.
I started off the challenge by doing a little research. I read Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom and her book The Way To Cook, as both contain additional tips for making great French bread. Then I read and reread the recipe from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" with all of Sara and Breadchick's helpful hints. Then I found several videos on making French Bread with Julia Child on PBS' website. In these video cuts, Julia is baking with Danielle Forestier, who at the time was the owner of a European-style bakery in Santa Barbara, California called Les Belles Miches and is now at The Feel Good Bakery in Alameda. Danielle is the first American to be awarded the title of Maitre Boulanger by the Chambre de Commerce in Paris. I felt ready to start the gluten bread making challenge.
Taking my own experience with baking gluten free bread into account, the first thing I did was to divide the original recipe in half. When I bake gluten free bread, one of the things I worry about is whether or not the yeast will become exhausted by the end of the first rise which results in a dense and gummy loaf of bread. So to increase the yeast's chances of success, I divide the recipe in half so it doesn't have as much work to do. I kept a tablespoon of agave syrup on hand to counteract the reaction between the fermenting yeast and the gluten free flours which can sometimes give the dough a sour taste that isn't the most pleasant. I added chia seed meal as the binding agent for the flours, since they are gluten free.
The recipe called for using floured towels on which to place the rising bread...well I have to confess...I didn't do it. I thought about it, but I vividly recalled the first time I tried to make gluten free French bread. Everything was going well, my dough was a great consistency just slightly tacky and not very sticky like most gluten free flour doughs tend to be. I floured up a towel, placed my dough on it and put it in a slightly warm spot to rise. When I returned and pulled out the loaf, it looked liked The Blob. The dough and the towel had become a single and cohesive unit, bonded by thread, flour and water into a living gooey thing. I tried out my best Edna Mode imitation and cried, "No towels! I will use parchment paper...flexible, easy to use and remove, dahling."
The dough went together well. The three risings of the bread went well, although it never achieved the height and loft that you can get with a gluten containing grain. It baked up beautifully, the first batch I made would only get slightly golden, but the second batch achieved a lovely golden look. To test out Julia's statement that the bread needs to rest for 2 to 3 hours, the first batch was a trio of fincelles (thin long loaves) and we cut one open right after it was removed from the oven. The lower half of the loaf was still slightly gummy...I thought the bread wasn't going to turn out at all. Then I cut into a loaf after 3 hours and the bread had the most wonderful texture, filled with lots of little air pockets and had the most divine taste. The second batch consisted of round rolls and discs for making pizza.
My family dived into the basket of bread slices and wiped out the first batch within a few minutes. My daughter declared that this was the best bread I had made since I started cooking gluten free. My husband and son merely wanted to know when I was going to make more as I had obviously not made enough the first time. The second batch of bread disappeared almost as quickly with pleas to make more again. What did I think? This is a truly satisfying loaf of gluten free bread, tastier and crunchier than any other gluten free loaf I have made to date. I want to try making this again, so I can try my hand at making a batard.
1 package gluten free yeast
2 1/2 Tb warm water (100 degrees Fahrenheit)
1/2 cup fine brown rice flour
1/2 cup gluten free oat flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
2 tsp chia seed meal
1 1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup + 2 Tb water (70 degrees Fahrenheit)
If Needed: 1 - 1 1/2 Tb agave syrup
1. Step 1: In a small bowl, dump in the yeast and the 2 1/2 Tb of warm water (100 degrees Fahrenheit). Then let it liquefy completely while measuring out the other ingredients. Once the yeast is liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water (1/2 cup + 2 Tb @ 70 degrees Fahrenheit).
2. Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a dough. Make sure all the little bits of flour and dough are gathered together into one ball. The dough should be sticky and not dry. If the mixture is too dry, add one tablespoon of water at a time until the bread is the right consistency. If the mixture is too moist, then add one tablespoon of flour at a time until the right consistency is reached.
3. Step 2: First Rising (3 - 5 hours at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Allow the bread to rise in a cool location, yet not drafty location until it has at least doubled in bulk. (I placed a bowl of water in the microwave and warmed it slightly. Then I removed the bowl of water and placed the bowl of dough in the microwave. Then I left it to rise. You can also use your oven after you have turned the oven on until the temperature rises to 75 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Then turn the oven off.)
4. Step 3: Deflating and the Second Rising (1 1/2 to 2 hours). Gather the dough together into the center of the bowl and gently deflate it. Gently shape the dough ball again and replace into the bowl. Return it to the location where it was rising. If you are using the oven or the microwave take the same steps in item 3 to warm the oven to 75 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Step 4: Cutting and Resting the Dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a sheet of parchment paper. Cut the dough into three equal pieces for slender loaves called fincelles or cut it into six pieces for small round rolls called petits pains. (See the full recipe at Breadchick's The Sour Dough for all the shape variations.) Take each cut piece of dough and flip it over onto the opposite end to fold the dough into two. Set the folded dough aside on the parchment paper for 5 minutes to allow it to rest. While the dough is resting, cut another sheet of parchment paper for the shaped bread to sit on for the third rising. If you are making long loaves make sure you cut a longer piece of parchment paper.
6. Step 5: Forming the loaves: To make the fincelle take a piece of the dough and place it in the center of the parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle flour over the dough so you can shape it without the dough sticking to your hands. Placing both sets of fingers on the dough, gently roll the dough ball back and forth until you have a long roll that is about 1/2 inch in diameter. To make the petits pains take the dough balls and gently roll them back and forth until the obtain a slight oval shape. Place the shaped loaf or roll on the parchment paper you are using for the bread to rise for the third time. Place the fincelle about 2 inches from one edge of the paper. After you shape the second loaf place it about 3 inches away from the first loaf. Then pull up the parchment paper in between the two loaves so that the loaves are in little troughs. Continue this pattern until all the loaves are formed.
7. Step 6: The Third and Final Rise: (1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Allow the loaves to rise in a cool location, yet not drafty location until it has at least doubled in bulk. If you need to raise the temperature of your rising location, follow the steps in item 2.
8. Step 7: Preheating the Oven and Shifting the Loaves: Place your baking stone or terra cotta baking tiles into the oven and preheat to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the oven rack is in the upper third of the oven. Gently roll your loaves over on the parchment paper and line them back up so that you can make each loaf sit in a trough.
9. Step 8: Slashing the loaves: Each loaf is going to be slashed in several places for the decorative appearance of the bread. These are done with a razor blade or a very sharp knife that cuts through the bread at a depth of less than 1/2 inch. Start the cut at the middle of the blade and draw the knife towards you in one clean sweep. The blade should lie almost parallel to the surface of the dough. For the fincelle make 3 slashes and for the petits pains you can make one slash or a decorative cross.
10. Step 9: Baking - About 25 minutes for Fincelles and 15 minutes for Petits Pains: As soon as you have slashed the loaves, sprinkle the loaves with a fine spray of water or brush the water on. Then slide or lift the parchment paper onto the baking stone. Very carefully lift the parchment paper between each loaf so that they maintain their shape. Place a bowl of water into the oven on the bottom shelf. Place a heated stone into the water so that you will have steam for helping to make a crisp crust. Then lightly spray the interior of the oven with water. Set the timer for 25 minutes, when the timer reaches 3 minutes lightly spray the bread with water. Do this again at 6 minutes and 9 minutes. This helps the crust to brown and allows the yeast action to continue in the bread. Paint the bread lightly with cold water if you want the crust to shine.
11. Step 10: Cooling - 2 to 3 hours. Set the bread out in a basket or in a large bowl so that air can circulate around it. Although it will be just about more than your nose can take...you must wait at least 2 hours. Otherwise the bread will be a little gummy inside since it won't have time to compose itself after cooling completely. Enjoy!