Bread making is a lesson in following directions, and artisan bread is NO exception, as my artisan bread trials would soon highlight.
I feel pretty good about my bread making skills. I can turn out some beautiful loaves of bread, for sandwiches, toast, and all manner of other things, but those pretty, round loaves of artisan bread, with their crunchy, crusty outside, and airy inside, have been calling. With little more than ingredients, desire, and a recipe, I was ready to roll...or so I thought.
Forgetting the most important rule in bread making, which is following directions, I deviated from the recipe. As I looked at the gooey mass of dough that seemed too sticky to do a darned thing with, I proceeded to add flour, and a lot of it. It became very easy to work with, but in adding that flour, I sealed my bread's fate. It never rose.
My darling husband ate it, and smiled all the while, but to me, it might as well have been as dense and flavorless as my new quarry (baking) tiles. What did I do wrong? Adding what seemed about double the flour called for in the recipe, as I would learn, was the beginning of the end for my bread. I would later discover the trick to artisan bread was maintaining moisture. Well, I sure took care of that, didn't I? Zapped all possible moisture with the addition of my flour.
I tried again. The dough from this recipe can be refrigerated, and small bits can be pulled from it, and risen/baked as desired, for up to two weeks. I decided I would try baking one loaf right after I finished making the dough and I would keep the other half of the dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours and bake it the following day. I'd read something on a French site about prefermentation, and wondered if this refrigeration time might be what they were referring to, but it was not easy to decipher what was written on that site, so I quickly forgot about it.
This loaf was far better, but still flat. It rose out vs. up, resembling a flat bread vs. the round loaf I was going for. I had followed the recipe, to the letter. Darn it. Well, if this bread can be made by others, then I know I can do it, too.
Clearly this was going to take a little more effort, both in actually making the bread, and in looking at some videos detailing the process, as well. In the videos I found I learned about a little something called 'shaping', and it appears to be the holy grail of a beautifully risen loaf of artisan bread. Actually, I think they call these loafs 'boules', but I'm not sure if that's how we refer to the bread before, or after baking.
This afternoon I pulled the second half of the dough out of the refrigerator, and I was ready to roll. I had watched several videos on 'shaping', and feeling this was where I'd been deficient, I went forth confidently.
The dough that had spent 24 hours in the refrigerator was ridiculously gooey, and sticky. How in the world was it going to keep from dropping into a pancake on my baking tiles after I shaped it? Okay, "no questions of the recipe, Leslie, just follow the directions," I told myself, only adding my newly acquired 'shaping' knowledge, which was not included in the recipe I was using, aside from a note about 'stretching and tucking' the dough. Clearly that was the 'shaping' bit, but not until I watched a couple of videos, did I grasp the concept.
I felt pretty good about my shaping, and what I ended up with looked really, really good, so I set it out to rise. Once risen, into the oven we went, but I immediately realized I'd forgotten two steps. I forgot to make my slashes, so right after I put the bread into the oven, I had to open the door, and quickly add a couple of hasty slashes. I would have liked to make three, larger slashes, but better two small ones than none at all. I'd also forgotten to dust the top with flour...what a rookie!
None the less, I prevailed, and turned out a beautiful loaf of artisan bread, or should I say a 'boule'?
I'm quite certain I would have a more even rise if I'd cut better slashes, and it would have been really pretty with the dusting of flour, but I'm pretty confident it will still be good.
The outside is very crunchy and crusty, and it is very light (in terms of it's weight). When I tap on it, it has that artisan bread sound to it...kind of hollow. I'm quite certain it will have all those big, beautiful holes I was hoping for, and I expect to find them when I slice it a little later.
I'm really happy to have some leftover tomato soup in my refrigerator...grilled cheese on artisan bread, anyone? I'm sure my 'chef' friends will snicker at my plans to turn my artisan bread into lowly grilled cheese sandwiches, but I'm a grilled cheese fan. This bread should make those sandwiches even better than they would otherwise be.