The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Not quite there...

pmccool's picture

Not quite there...

We were invited to a Cajun-themed dinner party last evening at a friend's house here in Pretoria.  Not the easiest thing to pull off in South Africa but it turned out pretty well, considering the limitations.

Knowing that there would be gumbo and jambalaya and etouffe, I wanted to take some bread that would be good all by itself and as a sop for all those wonderful broths and gravies.  Preferably, it would resemble something one might find in Louisiana; maybe in a poboy sandwich.  I came across Eric's (ehanner) post about utilizing Bernard Clayton's Blue Ribbon French Bread and figured that might be a good starting point.  Since I have the book (The Complete Book of Breads), it was easy to reference the recipe.

Clayton's approach is a fairly quick, straight dough method.  Wanting to build more flavor, I chose to build a sponge from 4 cups of water, 6 cups of flour and about a tablespoon of my approximately 50% hydration starter that would have been discarded as part of a refresh.  (Note that I doubled the recipe.)  That was assembled around 11:00 p.m.  This is what it looked like around 10:00 a.m. the following day:

Sponge for Blue Ribbon French Bread

Overnight temperature in the house was around 72ºF.  I'd estimate that the sponge had expanded by at least 25%.  The butter, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the sponge.  It was just convenient to leave it in the same bowl while it came to room temperature.  (No, this is not a classic French bread; more of an Indiana interpretation of a French bread.)

The only other alterations that I made were to omit the powdered milk, simply because I didn't have any on hand, and to reduce the yeast to 1 teaspoon.  I elected to use some yeast just to ensure that the rest of the fermentation went at a steady pace even though the sponge was more aerated than I had anticipated, given the small inoculation.  The rest of the ingredients and process were by the book.

Even though I used AP flour, the gluten in the sponge was well-developed after nearly 12 hours of hydrating.  Because of the high percentage of pre-fermented flour (approximately 60%), the dough was quite extensible.  Having made a lot of whole-grain breads in recent months, including quite a few ryes, this white-flour dough was a big change.  It was much smoother, less sticky, and felt more "pillowy" while it was being kneaded.

I steamed the oven as much as I could, hoping for a thin, crisp crust.  The loaves expanded beautifully, producing big ears and grignes on  the loaves, as below:

Blue Ribbon French Bread 

The crust turned out to be thicker and harder than I had hoped, more crunchy than crisp, so I didn't quite hit my target for this bake.  The crumb, which won't be pictured since none came home with us, was much less open than a classic baguette but more open than one would expect for a dough that had been kneaded 10 minutes.  The flavor was rich and only mildly sour.  Our resident Cajun was overjoyed with it and wanted to know how I was able to produce this kind of bread with a home oven.  He loaded up most of what hadn't been eaten and went home with visions of pain perdu in his head.  We'll be scheduling a play date in the kitchen one of these weekends.

And for my Northern Hemisphere friends, one last picture as a reminder that winter isn't forever:

Blue Ribbon French Bread

Warm regards,



Floydm's picture

Those loaves may not have quite been what you were shooting for but they look great under any conditions.  Nicely done. 


LindyD's picture

Pretty darn nice baguettes, Paul.

The sunkissed bread is a nice contrast to the monochromatic landscape here.

Is that Clivia in the backround?  A dear friend, the late Sir Peter Smithers, used to hybridize Clivia and that plant reminded me of him.

mrfrost's picture

Great looking loaves.

Thanks for pointing this recipe out. So disappointed I had not seen it earlier.

Eric's seem to be exactly what I envision Po Boy bread to look like. Will definitely be trying this soon. I just made a sponge myself, but I put a little ww flour in it. Otherwise, I would have just changed it to this recipe.

Franko's picture

Those look excellent Paul! Good straight and even shaping, nice colour, and spot on final proof from the looks of them. I did a similar thing a couple of weeks ago  by using some dormant rye starter combined with a poolish and it made a very tasty bread.

The sunlight in the photos looks so good right about now, with yet another week of gray skies forecast for us here on Vancouver Island.


Syd's picture

They look delicious Paul.  That is just the kind of crust that I love even though I know it wasn't what you wanted.  Cajun instead of a braai?  And in the summer time?  I am sure they were doing it just for you.  :)



Mebake's picture

Great Bake, Paul! if its soft enough to accomodate fillings, than yours is spot on!

pmccool's picture

Floyd - I am definitely pleased with the appearance.  Thank you for the compliment.

LindyD - Thank you.  I'm glad to be able to share a little bit of our sunshine with you.  Yes, those are Clivia and the tail end of the bloom.  There are several hundred around our garden.  The landlord got a bit carried away with propagating them and had over a thousand seedlings at one point.  I think he's down to just a couple hundred now.  That particular one is about the only one that doesn't have orange blossoms.

mrfrost - By all means, do try it.  As noted, the crust on these was crunchy instead of that crispy/shattering texture I was aiming for.  A joy to eat, yes, but not according to spec.  I suspect that the shortcoming has primarily to do with my ability to generate adequate steam in this oven.

Franko - Thanks for the comments about shaping and proofing.  Both were about as close to optimum as I get.  The dough was tacky, verging on sticky, which made handling a challenge.  It paid off in oven-spring and grignes, though.  Hope you see the sun soon.

Syd -  Yes!  Cajun instead of braai, and in the summertime, too!  The crowd was primarily a bunch of American ex-pats.  If only we could have located some mudbugs.  Thanks for your comments.  It probably isn't right to say that I'm disappointed with the crust; it was lovely, after all.  It's just that I was aiming for something else.

Mebake - Thank you.  It was capable of handling anything we tried with it, so we'll rate it spot on.  I suspect that the crumb might have been a bit more tender if I had included the dry milk but I didn't hear any complaints.  My Cajun friend was delighted with his pain perdu the next day, too.


tssaweber's picture

Cajun, braai, mudbugs!! As Swiss growing up in the Alps, exported to the US I had to Google all.....

But instead of being frustrated I see another value: the internationality of TFL and its contributors.


pmccool's picture

Sorry for any confusion, Thomas.  I'm glad to have expanded your horizons, though.  If you ever get to Louisiana and make a serious exploration of the food options, you'll wind up expanding more than just your horizons!

I almost used the term crayfish instead of mudbug, but any South African reader would have assumed I meant a spiny lobster.  Related, yes, but nowhere near the same thing.  Maybe I should have said crawfish?  Or crawdad?

Whatever the name, it's all good.


tssaweber's picture

The US is so big and there are so many places I've never been in the 12 years here, but New Orleans and Louisiana are definitely on the map!

I just came back from the USVI, another of these great places to be, especially with a blizzard in Chicago. I believe that Caribbean cuisine is related to Cajun, and it is great!


pmccool's picture

but it appears that I should put it on my list.  We still need to get to Madagascar and/or the Seychelles before leaving Africa...


wally's picture

I'm sure the etouffe and gumbos were the better for your contribution.  And I'd bet that your slightly-off-the-mark baguettes were probably better than anything the guests had come across.

Thanks for sharing the bake....and the warm weather.


rayel's picture

The dappled sun on those beautiful loaves cheered me up Paul. Thanks, I feel warmer and happier. High forties here this weekend, Yahoo!




highmtnpam's picture

It's obvious you have been truly spoiled by your own baking.  That bread looks wonderful to me_


britneychelle's picture

What a great looking bread!! I'm putting this on my list of things to learn how to make! It's a long list, and this looks more complicated than I've done so far. But it's something to aspire to! Hope it sopped up well!


pmccool's picture

Wally - there are some foods that just beg for a good, crusty hunk of bread as an accompaniment.  Gumbos and etouffes are definitely in that category.  Since most people only have squishy sandwich breads from the supermarket as their basis for comparison, almost anything home baked comes out a winner.  Glad to be able to share with you.

Rayel - A spot of sunshine is a wonderful thing when the weather is gloomy, isn't it?  Enjoy your warming trend.

Pam - Thank you!  

Britney - The good news is that things do get easier as you gain more experience.  The bad news is that the list of things to bake never gets any shorter.  And yes, it sopped up just fine.

belfiore's picture

Paul your loaves are beautiful and I'm not surprised none came home with you! I would think with the saucy-soupy dishes you mentioned that the firmer crust would be perfect.

BTW, is that Kaffir Lily blooming in your picture?