The Day Julia Child Kicked my Butt

Welcome to the latest adventures of one Daring Baker.  This month I took on a challenge posed by bread guru Mary at The Sour Dough and the lovely Sara of I Like to Cook who really put me to task on this one.  Yessirree.  If you’d like to see the recipe, please visit their sites for the study in wonder.  I could think of a much worse way to spend and entire weekend than with the incomparable Julia Child, whom I love with all my foodie heart and sweet soul.  But this day will forever be referred to as The Day Julia Child Kicked my Butt.

My Dear Julia,

Like so many other foodies in this world, I love you, but I have a a confession to make.  I loved Martha first.  I’ve thought about this much over the years, and believe that it comes down to my evolution as a cook.  I bought Martha’s big books on Entertaining and Weddings, subscribed to her magazine from the very start, watched her television show, and then, well, wanted to BE Martha.  And that’s when I really met you.

Julia, you were on Martha’s show quite a bit, and along the way, I learned that you authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking and that Martha had worked her way through the entire two volume set, learning from you.  But I have to say…

…Martha’s recipe for French Bread can fit on one page in her cookbook.  Yours is struggling to be contained in under 20!  I do have to say, Julia, that writing anything that lengthy in Bloggsville is quite the faux pas.  No one reads it. (This post is Exhibit I)

But I did.  I read your entire recipe for Pain Francais like I was a college student again — yellow highlighter in hand and a steaming cuppa extra strong French Roast to boot.  And this wasn’t the first time I’d read it.

Remember when I said I wanted to BE Martha?  That was in the early ’80s and about the time that your publisher released new editions of both volumes of the French Cooking set, and I bought both.  If Martha could cook her way through your books, then so could I.  But I read first, and in doing that, saw a few recipes that stopped me cold in my hopes and dreams.  I looked at them, blinked, read through the recipe, closed the book, went back to it over and over thinking that there might be a smidgen of an inkling of a slight possibility that I could not make that recipe.  Ever.  One is the Filet de Boeuf en Croute (p. 181, VII) — on a mere five pages, and the other was your Pain Francais.

And then last April, I became a Daring Baker and have found myself circling your recipe again with a stiff upper lip and a vow to succeed.  And do you know what, Julia?  There was one line in your recipe that caught my eye and it made all the difference from that point on:

It will turn into bread in the oven whatever happens, but you will have an easier time and a better loaf if you aim for ideal conditions.

Oh, how I now know that AND why the word for bread in French is spelled P.A.I.N.

7:00 am:  I was going to begin my bread, but hadn’t finished some cookies I made, and wanted to post those so blithely put off making your French bread one more day.  Big Mistake.  BIG.


8:00 am :  I was going to get up earlier to begin your French bread, but didn’t.  So I sat down and wasted time on the Internet, the recipe swirling in my head all the while, taunting me…You can’t do it.  You can’t do it.

9:00 am:  I dawdle around in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher and clearing things off the counter.  You know.  Kind of like when people clear the room when they’re going to dance or fight?

9:30 am:  The dough is a simple mix of yeast, flour, water, and salt.  Lots of salt.  And I did have a few detours instantly over the quantity of flour called for by volume as opposed to weight.  I ended up using 1 lb. of flour, noticing that the quantity was 1/4 c. less that the volume requirement.

9:40 am:  I only used one hand, Julia.  Just like you said.  That way, when I began to knead the dough and it began to stick to my hand as I attempted to get it to a stage that it actually resembled bread dough, I could keep adding the flour a sprinkle at a time until I’d added the 1/4 c. that I’d not weighed AND I’d have a certain finger sans sticky dough to wave in the kitchen because already my dough was not cooperating.

(And if I keep this up my post will be as long as Julia’s recipe and I’ll still be writing when the crickets begin to chirp later this evening…)

10:00 am:  The dough is snug in the dining room in the very first un-oiled bowl I’ve ever put bread dough into with a thermometer sitting near it that reads 75 degrees F and a large folded bath towel sitting on top of it to keep it from escaping or something.  It is sunny outside, and it’s Southern California for gawdsakes.  There was NO WAY this was going to take 3-5 hours.  No.  Way.

12:00 pm:  The dining room has lost a bit of its earlier warmth, so I moved the bowl to the living room floor in a patch of sunlight giving the dog an eye about even going near it.

3:00 pm:  No way?  Way.  The dough hasn’t come close to the place in the bowl it needs to be, Julia.  And yes, I used the right type of bowl.  Yes, I poured the water in the bowl to make sure about where the 10-1/2 cup mark was.  I was only half way there.  FIVE HOURS had gone by.  So I moved the bowl to my bedroom where it’s warm because the sun sets on that side of the house, keeping the room quite warm.  I moved the bowl with the towel and the thermometer and acknowledged that I was feeling a big crankiness settling in…

I’m beginning to think that I’ve somehow acquired another child and am now responsible for its welfare…

5:00 pm:  Finally, I decided to concede and bring the dough down to the kitchen to move along.  I didn’t have to “rupture” it because it stuck to the sides of the bowl and I had to peel it away to get it onto the counter to do the whole flipping thing again, but not as much as the first time. I put it back in the bowl for a second rise which was supposed to be 2 hours.

9:00 pm:  Um.  Julia, my dearest one, I thank you for your “delayed action” suggestions, but at the rate my dough was rising, I knew that Hell had probably frozen over and that was why my kitchen was so freaking cold.

10:30 pm:  I kissed my new dough child goodnight, made sure her towel was snuggly settled over her lest she escape in the night, and went to bed promising myself that I would NOT be as cranky the next day as I had been today.

7:00 am: I yell at my Hunkster while he’s going downstairs, “Don’t you DARE lift that towel off that dough and if it’s oozing out of the bowl I don’t want to know about it.”  Needless to say, I had to make my own coffee after that.  Feh.  But when I looked in the bowl, the dough child hadn’t quite done her work in the night.

It looked, Julia, like you were seriously working me over.  But I smiled and continued on with the challenge even though I was beyond challenged at this point.  But NOT cranky.  Because you know what?  I remember you said that when I was done, whatever happened, I’d have bread.

So true.

It didn’t matter that even though I lovingly turned my three little boules round and round and round, they weren’t exactly perfect looking.  I was their mother and would love them unconditionally.

It didn’t matter that they didn’t feel like rising in any hurry either, or that they stuck to the nicely floured dish towel.  Or that they really didn’t like having their gassy bubbles popped.

Or that they didn’t quite make it on to their baking sheets in any way that could be associated with any Art of French Cooking or any other cooking.

So forgive me Julia.  I am humbled in your presence even though I know you are only smiling and would never shake your finger at me or sort of nudge me out of the way like Martha would.

But you were so right.

We had bread that only a mother could love at about 3:00 pm — about 30 hours after I’d begun your recipe.  And although I’m one who loves to languish in my kitchen, that’s a record.

The menfolk — all four of them — ate every last bite.  I, on the other hand, was able to enjoy mine by dipping it into a gift from a very good friend — French olive oil.  I know you said that as much as “bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself,” but I couldn’t help myself.

Goodness, Julia, you should have tasted it.

Sure, there were some nooks and crannies in the crumb as big as moon craters, but still.  It was mah-vellous, dahling.  Truly.

Cheers to the wonder that you continue to be in the land of all things food.  I still love you.

Your faithful French Bread flunky,

And that, foodie friends and neighbors, is the conclusion of my Daring Baker challenge this month.  I think I shall remove myself and find a tattoo parlor so that I can have one done that says:  Julia Child Kicked my Butt.

Now don’t forget to venture on over to the other Five Hundred and counting Daring Bakers to see if Julia kicked their butts, too.


38 thoughts on “The Day Julia Child Kicked my Butt

  1. Wow, that was a lengthy post, but not as lengthy as the recipe. It took me 2 days and 2 different attempts to get it close to right. It was a challenge, but we conquered it. I love your slide show and the bread looks great, better than mine 🙁 Hehehe

  2. LOL! I’m not a “daring Baker” (although I should join) but that was a very entertaining post…Trust me I was laughing with you not at you. especially about the tattoo! Well done even though it took 30 hours!

  3. Kellypea – that was a very lengthy post but the reason I did not read it is because I’ve read it so often while making this that I think I can recite it by heart. Lovely job on this and well done.

  4. Oh you always have me laughing with your posts! I love your sense of humor, which is so often needed when we tackle these baking projects! Your 30-hour bread looks fantastic, and I don’t think Julia kicked your butt at all. I’d say you conquered!

  5. Kelly that is incredible! The color, the crumb and yes even the shape look fabulous to me! Yes I do love Julia just for those things she says that make it right to give it a go.
    That was really a long time but ultimately probably gave the bread twice the flavor.
    Your bread is wonderful. I had to laugh with your carrying it all over the house!! So glad you didn’t abandon this baby.
    Love that olive oil bowl.

  6. After reading so many of these I am sooooo glad that I decided to bow out of this one!!! Your bread looks incredible. I was drooling over the bread with olive oil!!!

  7. This was the first time I’ve been on your blog, but what an entertaining post – with a slide show and everything. I am reminded of the episode where Julia was on Martha’s holiday show and they were spinning sugar and Julia looked into the camera and said “Don’t try this at home” I may be paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. These recipes are not for the weak of heart. You did a great job – on the bread and the post. Thanks!

  8. Gosh Julia Child did kick my butt . . . I was so shocked to ever see such a long 15 pages recipe in my life . . . it may sound like a recipe fit for a king . . lol! but anyway you executed well, you did well!

  9. Kelly, you crack me up! One of the biggest reasons I love you so much. Yes, this recipe is as “scary” as they come but I hope you try it again. In fact, I’ll even bake it with you!!! Two scaredy cats in the kitchen with Julia (and then we can both go get that tattoo!)
    Thanks for participating with Sara and I this month on the challenge. As always, I love baking with you!!

  10. Great post as always Kelly, it is always great to sit down with a cup of coffee and read you…like a novel! You did not flunk Julia! Au contraire…the bread turned out beautiful!

  11. Gawd, kellypea! I wish mine was as nooky and cranny-ish as yours! I love nooks and crannies in bread 🙂
    I like how you took us through the timeline of this challenge! I enjoyed reading it.

  12. Every time I get my butt kicked by Julia I learn something – and it looks like you did too. You learned how to bake a gorgeous loaf of bread – there’s no denying it, your bread looks great.

  13. Your labor of love was a lot longer than mine was! But wasn’t it great to get through it and know you’ve really learned something new?

  14. PAIN is right! It sounds like this was a difficult challenge.
    I can’t believe that freakin recipe was so long.
    Sometimes I want to be a DB, but then there are times like this, that I don’t.

  15. I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you! Really, I am!
    I give you a huge round of applause for your persistence! Others would have thrown in the flour covered towel, but not you! No, you conquered that bread and should therefore have a tattoo that reads: I kicked Julia Child’s French Bread’s Butt!

  16. Kellypea, i just love your blog and your sense of humor. Your bread actually looks scrumptious…tasted better than mine i am sure :D.

  17. Kellypea, i just love your blog and your sense of humor. Your bread actually looks scrumptious…tasted better than mine i am sure :D.

  18. Hey Kelly…my first time here…& I cracked up over your post! It’s hilarious & makes wonderful reading. P.A.I.N. is jusr right too…I love your ravings & rantings, maybe they should be added next to Mary & Sara’s comments for the next generation of DBs! If we did 20, let them have 30!! Handsome bread…Julia & Martha will be PROUD of you!! Cheers

  19. Kellypea (btw I think this name is adorable:)), I loved the slide show, you put together everything so succinctly with the pics. Very entertaining, and great bread. 🙂

  20. Hilarious post as usual and I agree with the others, you managed to produce a marvelous piece of bread, even if it did take 30 hours! Next time the bread is taking its sweet time to rise, you could turn on the oven for a minute, turn it off and put the bread bowl inside so it rises in a warm environment without any drafts. But i´m sure the never-ending rise of this bread helped develop a better taste anyways.

  21. I can’t believe you stuck with it – I think I would have given up! I don’t know how, but in my 65 degree house, the bread rose quickly. But your bread does look tasty!

  22. Awesome! I’ve always kind of given up when my dough won’t rise … and have re-started with more yeast & just doubled the recipe, thinking that would fix whatever had gone wrong. I’m so glad that you didn’t, ’cause now I know I just have to be patient!

  23. Kelly, my bread looked a lot in process like yours except it refused to rise inspite of the tropical temperatures I live in. Your result looks good but I can’t say the same for mine. Maybe I should have persevered for longer but I think 30 hours for french bread would be a record!

  24. Okay mine didn’t take 30 hours.. but we did have identical twin doughs. Mine went for 4.5-5 hours first rise and didn’t come anywhere near 10.5 cups.. and it also spread to the sides and kind of leveled off on the top – not dome shaped as the recipe said.. so I said fakk it and moved along, I wanted bread THAT NIGHT. Second rise went for 2-3 hours and did double this time but did not dome – although it didn’t spread like the first time.. bubbles were bigger too. And that’s where the identical-ness stops. Yours turned out fluffy and gorgeous! Mind turned out relatively flat and holey. Not that I was up set with that.. I likes me a holey bread. And it was delish!
    I’m trying a quicker French bread recipe today that Mary gave me.. will let you know how it turned out.

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