Bread baking has always been one aspect of my career that I completely lack confidence in. There are so many variables and so many ways for it to go wrong and yes, baking in general is often a disaster waiting to happen, but bread is where I have had so many more failures. As you know, baking is science oriented and when you add a living creature, yeast specifically, there are just so many more rules that must be followed. In my world, a baguette has always fallen into the buy it not bake it category because I have never achieved good results when baking one at home.
So it was with the greatest of expectations and hopes that I set off to bake this bread. When I read the instructions, I saw that I could actually make four different shapes if I followed the recipe, and I was determined to make at least three of the shapes. But, as the Steinbeck wrote, “even the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry.”
First mistake; no bread dough to make the starter with. Not a problem, I subbed a small amount (1/4 cup) of my homemade starter. While this sounds good in theory, it made the starter very wet and it set the stage for more problems as I followed the recipe. In the final rise stage, my dough was simply too soft and probably could have used another half cup of flour to make up for the added moisture in the starter I used. However, the mistakes are not all mine. Did anyone else notice the rather large discrepancy between the photo tutorial on page 116 and the directions in the recipe on page 117?
Give me a moment to vent and then I shall stumble down off my soapbox. First let me state that I admire Dorie greatly. She has helped put women bakers up in front of the crowd and to show the world that yes, women can be pastry chefs too. She has in a lot of ways done for baking what women like Alice Waters and Julia Child did for cooking as far as convincing the world that women can do this and do it just as well if not better than men. But editing is editing and as a published cookbook author, I can say that if the words under the photo do not match the words in the recipe, we’ve got a problem. While this may have been fixed in later editions, my $3 flea market find is actually a first edition and I had a major mishap as a result.
My complaint is simple, step 3 of the photo tutorial instructs you to fold the dough down again (the folding process starts in step 2) and to seal the seam…it then goes on to tell you to repeat this process once or twice to form a short log shape with a tight skin. That right there is it, one of the largest factors that my bread dough simply spread out rather than rise up and why it was not possible to get it off the floured towel without deflating it. If you read the recipe, it only tells you to complete the folding and rolling once. The tight skin is crucial not only to the success of a crispy, flaky skin but to the shape and the height of the loaf as well.
After having nurtured this dough along for 2 days, arranging our day around the baking schedule and then having such a flop that I had to go out and buy bread for dinner, I was truly annoyed with myself for not succeeding. As I dumped half of the batch in the trash, I made the decision to save a piece of the dough and start again. Then, while standing there in my kitchen peeling the rest of the dough off of a floured towel, I could not bring myself to tossing it in the trash. Stubborn determination had me grabbing my basket and shaping the remaining dough. The dough was soft and a little sticky at first but as I worked at shaping it into a smooth ball, I saw a change in the texture, it was no longer soft and shapeless and it was now tight and structured. It rose beautifully in the basket and when it had doubled, I dumped it out on to the baking peel, slashed the top, slid it onto the heated stone in the oven and poured the water into the pan in the bottom of the oven. Voila! Picture perfect bread, and a lesson learned!
The crust was thin and crispy, just like a good baguette and despite the many missteps and the extra rise time, it has absolutely no sour taste.
Just look at the interior of the loaf, all of the open bubbles you would expect after reading the recipe, but not the photo tutorial as it does not advise you to retain the open structure and air bubbles by handling it gently and not to deflate or mash it. In the end, I am better prepared to make a baguette and my second batch is nearing the final rise. Stay tuned fellow bakers, I will post additional photos when I get a decent loaf!
To see what the other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers came up with, visit the website.