I took the first step back in March, when I wrote about Dad's French bread: "I can see why this recipe was one of his favorites: it is extremely simple -- fool-proof, even -- and utterly delicious. It's a great place for me to start on my Bread-Making Quest." I was determined to bake bread regularly, but I assumed that my quest would be my own quiet pursuit. I thought it would be something I did for myself and my family, maybe occasionally sharing a bread or two here in this space.
However, less than two months later, I found myself on an actual Bread-Making Quest: The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge. Which has taught me more about bread-making in 14 recipes (so far) than I ever imagined it would. When I vowed to make my own bread all the time, I didn't really think I'd be making complex artisan recipes week in, week out. But here I am: in a position to critique Dad's tried-and-true French bread against Peter Reinhart's version. In March I thought I'd be making modest sandwich loaves each Sunday; I didn't think I'd get to the point of comparing homemade baguette recipes. That seemed a tad hardcore, beyond the casual bread-baker I thought I'd become. What a glorious turn of events!
So here I sit with three of Reinhart's French bread loaves: deep golden, crusty, fragrant. Apart from the misshapen loaf that I had to bend to make it fit on the stone (Husband nicknamed this loaf "Snakey"), these baguettes almost look like they came from a professional oven. Which is wild!
Reinhart's method involves making a pâté fermentée, which is a pre-ferment that in this case is in a 1:1 ratio with the final dough (meaning the pre-ferment has the same amount of flour, salt, yeast and water as the dough itself). The pâté fermentée has to sit at least overnight, so this French bread is certainly more time-consuming than Dad's recipe (which can be made in an afternoon). Reinhart's loaves are hearth-baked, meaning baked on a stone with repeated blasts of steam during the first two minutes of baking. Dad's loaves are baked alongside a pan of boiling water and the loaves themselves are brushed twice with water. The science behind both loaves is similar, but the execution and the result (in terms of the crust's appearance) are quite different. Dad's loaves are paler, not as crusty, while Reinhart's loaves are golden and shatter when bitten. Mmmm...shatter when bitten....
Anyway. Crust appearance is important, of course, but the real test is taste. And on that, I have to give props to Dad. While I might look Parisian walking down the street with one of Reinhart's loaves in my tote, I'm much happier with the flavor of Dad's bread. For Dad's is yeasty and aromatic and just a teeny eensy bit salty. Reinhart's French bread is these things, too, but in smaller measure. It just left me wanting; I had hoped it would taste as complex and beguiling as it looked, and it didn't.
Mom and Dad came over the other night to deliver some olive oil-rosemary cake (yum) to me and Husband. I was in the middle of making Reinhart's French bread: the shaped baguettes were proofing on the counter and The Bread Baker's Apprentice was open to the recipe. I noticed Dad peering over at the pages and could see his wheels turning, comparing what he was reading to his own time-tested French bread method. I knew he was thinking, "My recipe is better than this. It tastes amazing and I don't have to mess with no pâté fermentée. She thinks she is onto something here, but if she wants French bread, all she needs is that tattered old index card of mine." At the risk of inflating his ego, he is right. Though I like having Reinhart around, all I need -- in this case, at least -- is that old index card.
Advantage: Father. Well played. (And I'm not just saying that so he'll lend me his leaf blower.)
The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share Reinhart's recipes. But since you all have the book by now, turn to page 168 and get going. Then go over here and try Dad's recipe. And let me know what you think.
Also check out some French breads made by other Apprentices:
- Nicole from Pinch My Salt also baked a (slightly) misshapen loaf!
- Michelle at Big Black Dog has great success with her baguettes and makes a delicious-looking cognac-flavored crostini.
- Pete Eatemall eats three-quarters of one baguette while photographing it. I can totally get behind that.
- Daniel from Ahrelich Gesagt compares his baguette to a Poilâne loaf, which is never a good idea.
- Over at Italian Food Forever, Deb's loaves look gorgeous on her window sill.