My Life Would Be Complete If I Could Make The Perfect Baguette
First off, I'd like to say hello and introduce myself. My name is John Taylor, and about six months ago I had a revelation that making a really good loaf of bread was the kind of ability that made you an inherently good human being. Since then, I've been baking almost every weekend and really enjoying the process.
I stumbled across TFL website a few weeks ago and it was an eye-opener to say the least. This is an incredible resource, an excellent community, and my abilities have improved vastly since I've been utilizing the site. Before this, I was basically trying recipes from a Martha Stewart baking book, which to be honest were rather good. I guess baked goods are the new cigarettes in today's prison system...
My passion has been to bake the perfect bageutte. OK, "perfect" is a mighty big word, but you get the jist: Artisan Bread, the kind with flaky, crunchy crusts and marshmallow-soft crumb with holes in a variety of sizes that melts in your mouth with the right combination of yeasty, wheaty flavors. Mmmm. That's what I'm talking about!
The other day, I came across a thread by the brilliant "Eric" and his cohorts, "The Sourdough Guy" and "The Crumb Bum." (Maybe I need a more Hip Hop/Baker handle...The Yeast Beast. Maybe not). In it, Ed linked to two videos - one by Danielle Foristier, showing the government-sanctioned method of French bread making, and one by (I think) Sourdough Guy, demonstrating the French Fold. It was truly a sea-change in thinking for me. Martha is definitely a hands-off baker - put the ingredients in the mixer, leave the room and go make a decorative table swan out of missing socks, then come back in 12 hours and you have bread. I wanted something more tactile. I decided to try Danielle's method this weekend.
Tactile aint the half of it. For any of you who've watched the video, Ms. Foristier treats her dough like Stone Cold Steve Austin treats Hulk Hogan in a WWF Cage Match. I think her bread comes out perfect because the dough is absolutely terrified of her by the time she's done with it, and dissapointing this Baking Dominatrix will only lead to further punishment. On the other hand, the simple and elegant French Fold makes me think that it just cannot be enough kneading to accomplish the task. So I stuck with Danielle's method.
There's a point to all of this. Well, actually not a point, but a lot of questions - the answers which I hoped you wonderful people would help enlighten me. The bread I ended up with today had the best crust I've ever made, but the crumb was pretty tight - not too chewey, but smaller, uniform holes. Good, balanced taste. So let's start at the begining.
1) How wet is wet enough? The basic lessons on this site say "the wetter the better." Danielle says the amount of water will vary. She calls for two cups, I used 1 1/2 and thought the dough "looked" right, but got freaked out that maybe it should be wetter. Any good gauges for wettness?
2) When you mix the dough and then frisage, is that the same as an autolyse?
3) Make a starter or just add yeast? This is the biggie. My understanding is that Danielle puts in the yeast into the dough then begins the 850 smacks against the counter to expedite the 1st fermentation: instead of a 12-hour rise, you now get a two-hour rise. Is this correct? In Sourdough Guy's video demonstration of the French Fold, he simply folds the dough once and it's ready for the first fermentation. However, I believe he creates a starter first then adds it to the dough. Is this correct? If so, do you add the starter after the autolyse/frisage and let it sit? for how long? The thing is, I did about 200 wallops on the dough before I freaked out my dog and had my wife telling me to find a new hobby.
4) Danielle smack the bubbles out of the dough after the 1st fermentation and the turn. Does that sound counterintuitive? It feels to me like this is the reason my crumb has such small bubbles.
5) I got a crust on my dough during the 1st fermenation. How do you prevent that? I had a towel over it, but it got a pretty serious crust anyway. This never happened when Martha told me to put plastic wrap on the dough.
OK, that's it for now. Thanks so much!