Monday, August 26, 2013

French Bread

One of my early childhood memories is sitting in the living room with my mom watching Julia Child. Her voice, her easygoing manner, and her “can-do” attitude powered my mom through a lot of her kitchen adventures, including yogurt-making, canning, and baking—not to mention making practically every dinner we ate, at least for the first 10 years or so of our lives. My dad got better at that as we were teenagers.

So when a couple of Julia collections came out on DVD we snatched ‘em up. Some of the recipes are a little mystifying. I have no desire to coat anything in aspic, and some of the veggie preparations seem a bit dated to me. But when it comes to French bread there’s no one who inspires confidence quite like Julia. The ingredients really couldn’t be simpler: AP flour, water, yeast, and salt. Time and Technique are the other two elements that turn those basic ingredients into French bread.

It was pretty humid out today, so the dough was particularly wet, no matter how much I kneaded it. That’s part of why the rolls came out rather amoeba-like. But they’re still crusty and tasty.

Mixing the dough:



Molding the rolls and letting ‘em rise:

I forgot to take pictures when I scored the rolls. Given how wet the dough was the scoring looked pretty messy.

After the baking was done:

I use Julia’s method pretty consistently to make sandwich rolls with a couple of changes: I let the rolls rise on parchment paper, covered by damp paper towels. If the towels have dried and stick to the rolls when rising I spray 'em with water (with a spray bottle bought for that purpose) and the moist towels life right off. I score the exposed side, I don't bother to turn the rolls as Julia does, and then I spray them before putting them in the oven.

This might seem like a lot of effort for a few sandwich rolls, but for me it's worth it. I love the crunchiness of a good crust for cheese and prosciutto sandwiches. Sometimes I’ll sauté chard and have it in a sandwich with goat cheese and tomatoes. This bread is pretty forgiving for all kinds of odd fillings, and is a great way of taking advantage of the bits and pieces in the garden and the fridge.

You can also do this partway, making the dough, kneading it, and letting either the first or second (or both) rises happen in the fridge, and then form the loaves, rise them and bake them off on another day. It also makes a great pizza crust.

Here’s the full episode. There’s some prime moments in here, my fave being when she visits a French bakery and the baking assistant is seen standing next to Julia, watching her skeptically with his hands on his hips and wearing dark sunglasses indoors. Mon dieu.

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