Friday, February 29, 2008

Ze Daring Bakers Conquer French Bread ala Julia

Julia Child. Just the mention of Julia Child will bring a smile to the face and a tear to the eye of most cooks. Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was in her 40s and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” wasn’t published until she was almost 50! By the time Julia died in 2004 at the age of 92, she was regarded as one of the foremost cooks of our times.

There is not one home cook in the world today who does not owe Julia a small bit of thanks. With her distinctive voice and joie de vivre, we all learned to cook and laugh at our mistakes in the kitchen. Just watch her flip an omelet onto her stove in the classic “French Chef” episode about eggs. She laughs, picks it up off the side of the stove, slaps it on the plate, sprinkles some parsley on top and tells you not to say a thing because no one at the table will know! It is because of Julia and her insistence that anyone could cook that we have the explosion of cookbooks that show the home cook how to authentically make the world’s cuisines. It is because of Julia that we have cooking shows on TV and entire channels of TV dedicated to food. Love her or hate her, you still have to thank her.

This month, Sara of I Like to Cook and I are the hostess for February Challenge of that really large group of zany and insane bakers, The Daring Bakers

Like many of us in the food blogdom, both Sara and I fell in love with the idea of cooking by watching Julia Child on TV. So, when it came time for us to decide on a recipe to host for the February Daring Baker Challenge, we both knew it would be a Julia Child recipe. Since it is February and Julia was known for her baking, we could have chosen one of her fabulous and sinful dessert recipes like palmiers or her famous Queen of Sheba cake. But, there was one recipe that kept calling to us, Julia’s eighteen page love poem to French bread.

Ironically, you will find her master recipe for French Bread not in Volume One but Volume Two of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, which was published in 1970. The recipe starts on Page 57, ends on Page 74 and not only lists the ingredients and the steps for making French Bread but is full of good general information about making bread and working with yeast. It is hard to separate out the master recipe from the master class, pure Julia.

I have a confession to make here: this recipe has for years scared me to death! Yup, of all the recipes I have for bread, it has been this recipe that I have kept, looked at, and then put away because it is so long, it freaked me out!! That is until last year when I decided enough was enough. I was going to conquer Julia's Masterpiece French Bread recipe. When I finally made the bread, it was the closest to real French bread I have ever had this side of the Pond.


Trust me on this, don't let all the pages of this recipe scare you or prevent you from trying it on your own. The time and effort you take will be rewarded with fantastic bread!

And if you don't trust me, go check out all the other Daring Bakers French Bread... Just remember to take some wine and cheese with you!!

OK, since I'm the hostess this month, I am going to post the recipe as we used it in the Daring Bakers Challenge this month and some pictures along the way to help you visualize the methods described. Another really good source for information before you bake this recipe is to go watch Julia Child and Danielle Forestier make them together on PBS.

A few notes to help you along as you make the bread.

I'm giving you the recipe along with all the additional information provided in the recipe written by Julia because the extra info is as valuable to the success of this challenge as the ingredients. Sara and my notes are tips based on today’s equipment and ingredients, our experiences with this recipe and my experience as a bread maker. They will be in parenthesis and italicized.

The rest of the recipe is all Julia. As you read through the recipe (and we highly suggest you read through the recipe at least two times before you start!) and all the additional information provided, listen really closely. You can hear Julia’s distinctive voice in your head and before you are finished with this month’s challenge you just may find yourself chortling in the kitchen as you bake!

So without further adieu, Julia Child’s classic of all classic recipes for French Bread. Bon Appetit!

Pain Francais (French Bread)
(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck)
Daring Bakers Challenge #16: February 2008

Recipe Quantity:
3 - baguettes (24” x 2”) or batards (16” x 3”) or
6 – short loaves, ficelles, 12 – 16” x 2” or
3 – round loaves, boules, 7 – 8” in diameter or
12 – round or oval rolls, petits pains or
1 – large round or oval loaf, pain de menage or miche; pain boulot

Recipe Time: 7 – 9 hours

Additional Information About the Recipe Flour: French bakers make plain French bread out of unbleached flour that has gluten strength of 8 to 9 per cent. Most American all-purpose flour is bleached and has slightly higher gluten content as well as being slightly finer in texture. It is easier to make bread with French flour than with American flour.

(Breadchick and Sara Note: This was true when this book was written in the late 50s but today it is very easy to find unbleached AP flour. In addition, you can source French style, lower gluten AP flour from several specialty millers such as King Arthur Flour)

Bakers’ Oven Versus Home Ovens: Bakers’ ovens are so constructed that one slides the formed bread dough from a wooden panel right onto the hot, fire-brick oven floor, a steam injection system humidifies the oven for the first few minutes of baking. Steam allows the yeast to work a little longer in the dough and this, combined with the hot baking surface, produced an extra push of volume. In addition, steam coagulating the starch on the surface of the dough gives the crust its characteristic brown color. Although you can produce a good loaf of French bread without steam or a hot baking surface, you will a larger and handsomer loaf when you simulate professional conditions.

(Breadchick and Sara Note: Julia provided a very nice step by step of how to make a simulated bakers oven at home at the end of the recipe. We will provide those same steps plus a few of Breadchick’s bread making/baking tips she uses for those of you who want to take it to the limits!)

Stand Mixer Mixing and Kneading of French Bread Dough: French bread dough is too soft to work in the electric food processor, but the heavy-duty mixer with dough hook works perfectly. The double-hook attachment that comes with some hand held mixers and the hand-cranking bread pails are slower and less efficient, to our mind, than hand kneading. In any case, when you are using electricity, follow the steps in the recipe as outlined, including the rests; do not over-knead and for the heavy duty mixer, do not go over a moderate speed of number 3 or 4, or you risk breaking down the gluten in the dough.

(Breadchick and Sara Note: When this book was written the average home heavy duty stand mixer was less than 300W and the hand mixer was less than 250W. Today you can find stand mixers with much better wattage and torque. Breadchick has made this dough using both her old Sunbeam Mixmaster from the late 80s with a 325W motor and her Kitchen Aid 7 speed Ultra Power Plus Handheld and had both struggle quite a lot. She has also made this dough with a Kitchen Aid Artisan (350W) and it did OK but also struggled a bit at the end so if you have an Artisan, keep your eye on it, especially at the end of the kneading as the gluten really develops. Breachick has made this recipe several times with her Kitchen Aid Pro V Plus (450W) and it had no problems what so ever with the dough. So, a good rule of thumb to use to decide between making the dough by hand or by machine is probably 350W or better for motor power in your mixer, either hand or stand. If it looks like your mixer is struggling, finish the dough by hand. One last reminder, always follow the speed directions of your mixer manufacturer for using the dough hook. The Kitchen Aid recommendation is not to go over Speed 2 when using the dough hook on their mixers.)

Equipment Needed: Unless you plan to go into the more elaborate simulation of a baker’s oven, you need no unusual equipment for the following recipe. Here are the requirements, some of which may sound odd but will explain themselves when you read the recipe.

(Note: you do not neet to buy all these items if you don't have them already. Just improvise with what you already have)

  • 4 to 5 quart mixing bowl with fairly vertical rather than outward slanting sides

  • a kneading surface of some sort, 1 1/2 to 2 square feet

  • a rubber spatula or either a metal scraper or a stiff wide metal spatula

  • 1 to 2 unwrinkled canvas pastry cloths or stiff linen towels upon which the dough may rise

  • a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood 18 – 20 inches long and 6 – 8 inches wide, for unmolding dough from canvas to baking sheet

  • finely ground cornmeal or pasta pulverized in an electric blender to sprinkle on unmolding board so as to prevent dough from sticking

  • the largest baking sheet that will fit in your oven

  • a razor blade or extremely sharp knife for slashing the top of the dough

  • a soft pastry brush or fine spray atomizer for moistening dough before and during baking

  • a room thermometer to verify rising temperature

  • Breadchick and Sara also recommend the use of an oven thermometer

Making French Bread:
Step 1: The Dough Mixture – le fraisage (or frasage)

(Breadchick and Sara Note: The metric measurements were converted from an online conversion chart and then checked for us by Baking Soda, who gets a Golden Loaf Award for standing in her kitchen in her pjs and while she drank her first cup of coffee scooping flour onto scales.)

1 cake (0.6 ounce) (20grams) fresh yeast or 1 package dry active yeast
1/3 cup (75ml) warm water, not over 100 degrees F/38C in a glass measure
3 1/2 cup (about 1 lb) (490 gr) all purpose flour, measured by scooping
dry measure cups into flour and sweeping off excess
2 1/4 tsp (12 gr) salt
1 1/4 cups (280 - 300ml) tepid water @ 70 – 74 degrees/21 - 23C

(Breadchick and Sara Note: if you are using instant yeast, you may reduce the amount to 1 3/4 tsp or 7 gr but you will still want to "proof" it because that is important for taste development in this bread)

Both Methods: Stir the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.


Hand Method: Stir and cut the liquids into the flour with a rubber spatula, pressing firmly to form a dough and making sure that all the bits of flour and unmassed pieces are gathered in. Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky.

Stand Mixer: (Breadchick and Sara note: Julia did not give detailed instructions about how the dough comes together other than “combine the ingredients using the dough hook”, therefore these directions are based upon their experiences)


Using the dough hook attachment on the speed the mixer manufacturer recommends for dough hook use or the lowest setting if there is no recommendation, slowly work all the ingredients together until a dough ball is formed, stopping the mixer and scrapping the bits of flour and chunks of dough off the bottom of the bowl and pressing them into the dough ball. Continue to mix the dough on a low speed until all the bits of flour and loose chunks of dough have formed a solid dough ball.

(Breadchick and Sara Note for both methods: Depending the humidity and temperature of your kitchen and the type of AP flour your use, you may need to add additional flour or water to the dough. To decide if this is necessary, we recommend stopping during the mixing process and push at your dough ball. If the dough is super sticky, add additional flour one handful at a time until the dough is slightly sticky and tacky but not dry. If the dough is dry and feels hard, add 1 Tbsp of water a time until the dough is soft and slightly sticky. Breadchick likes to keep a soup or cereal bowl of flour and a 1 cup measure of water with a tablespoon next to her mixer for this.)

Both Methods: Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky. Let the dough rest for 2 – 3 minutes while you wash and dry the bowl (and the dough hook if using a stand mixer).

Step 2: Kneading – petrissage
The flour will have absorbed the liquid during this short rest, and the dough will have a little more cohesion for the kneading that is about to begin. Use one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scrapper, to dip out extra flour, to answer the telephone, and so forth. Your object in kneading is to render the dough perfectly smooth and to work it sufficiently so that all the gluten molecules are moistened and joined together into an interlocking web. You cannot see this happen, of course, but you can feel it because the dough will become elastic and will retract into shape when you push it out.

Hand Method: Start kneading by lifting the near edge of the dough, using a pastry scraper or stiff wide spatula to help you if necessary, and flipping the dough over onto itself. Scrape dough off the surface and slap it down; lift edge and flip it over again, repeating the movement rapidly.

In 2 -3 minutes the dough should have enough body so that you can give it a quick forward push with the heel of your hand as you flip it over.


Continue to knead rapidly and vigorously in this way. If the dough remains too sticky, knead in a sprinkling of flour. The whole kneading process will take 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how expert you become.

Shortly after this point, the dough should have developed enough elasticity so it draws back into shape when pushed, indicating the gluten molecules have united and are under tension like a thin web of rubber; the dough should also begin to clean itself off the kneading surface, although it will stick to your fingers if you hold a pinch of dough for more than a second or two.

Stand Mixer: (Breadchick and Sara note: Julia did not give detailed instructions about kneading the dough other than “knead”) Place dough back into the bowl and using the dough hook attachment at the recommended speed (low), knead the dough for about 5 – 7 minutes. At about the 5 minute mark, stop the mixer and push at the dough with your fingertips. If it springs back quickly, you have kneaded the dough enough. If it doesn’t spring back continue to knead, stopping the mixer and retesting every 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to your fingers, toss a sprinkling of flour onto the dough and continue to knead. The dough should be light and springy when it is ready. Breadchick also recommends always finishing with about 1 – 2 minutes of hand kneading just to get a good feel for how the gluten is formed.

Both Methods: Let dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes. Knead by hand for a minute. The surface should now look smooth; the dough will be less sticky but will still remain soft. It is now ready for its first rise.


(Breadchick and Sara note: From here out in the recipe, there is no difference for the hand vs. stand method)

Step 3: First Rising – pointage premier temps (3-5 hours at around 70 degrees)
You now have approximately 3 cups of dough that is to rise to 3 1/2 times its original volume, or to about 10 1/2 cups. Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Note, that the bowl should have fairly upright sides; if they are too outward slanting, the dough will have difficulty in rising. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it (Mary and Sara Note: Very lightly grease the bowl with butter or kitchen spray as well to prevent the risen dough from sticking to the bowl).

Slip the bowl into a large plastic bag or cover with plastic, and top with a folded bath towel. Set on a wooden surface, marble or stone are too cold. Or on a folded towel or pillow, and let rise free from drafts anyplace where the temperature is around 70 degrees. If the room is too hot, set bowl in water and keep renewing water to maintain around 70 degrees. Dough should take at least 3 – 4 hours to rise to 10 1/2 cups. If temperature is lower than 70 degrees, it will simply take longer.

(Breadchick and Sara Note: If your oven has an oven light, turn on the oven light when you start making the dough. By the time you are ready for the first rise, the temperature in your oven will be around 70 degrees. You can check with your oven thermometer. If you don’t have an oven light, like Breadchick, you can turn the oven on to its lowest setting about 5 minutes before you begin your rise. Leave on for 1 – 5 minutes until the temperature is around 75- 80 degrees. Turn off oven, when you open the door to put the dough in to rise, your oven will be around 70 degrees. Another trick is to put your dough on top of your hot water heater. Place a folded towel on top of the hot water heater and let rise. Also a heating pad works well. Mary also has used those give away shower caps from hotels to cover her bowls and the bowl covers for the metal mixing bowls work well too. Always lightly grease the plastic wrap or bowl cover so if the risen dough touches it, the dough won’t stick.)

When fully risen, the dough will be humped into a slight dome,


showing that the yeast is still active; it will be light and spongy when pressed. There will usually be some big bubbly blisters on the surface, and if you are using a glass bowl you will see bubbles through the glass.

Step 4: Deflating and Second Rising – rupture; pointage deuxieme temps (1 1/2 to 2 hours at around 70 degrees)
The dough is now ready to be deflated, which will release the yeast engendered gases and redistribute the yeast cells so that the dough will rise again and continue the fermentation process.

With a rubber spatula, dislodge dough from inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping bowl clean. If dough seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour.


Lightly flour the palms of your hands and flatten the dough firmly but not too roughly into a circle, deflating any gas bubbles by pinching them.

Lift a corner of the near side and flip it down on the far side.


Do the same with the left side, then the right side. Finally, lift the near side and tuck it just under the edge of the far side. The mass of dough will look like a rounded cushion.

Slip the sides of your hands under the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let rise again, this time to not quite triple, but again until it is dome shaped and light and spongy when touched.

(Breadchick and Sara Note: You may need to lightly re-grease your bowl and plastic wrap for the second rise to prevent sticking)

Step 5: Cutting and resting dough before forming loaves
Loosen dough all around inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Because of its two long rises, the dough will have much more body. If it seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle lightly with flour.


Making clean, sure cuts with a large knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into:

  • 3 equal pieces for long loaves (baguettes or batards) or small round loaves (boules only)

  • 5 – 6 equal pieces for long thin loaves (ficelles)

  • 10 – 12 equal pieces for small oval rolls (petits pains, tire-bouchons) or small round rolls (petits pains, champignons)

  • 2 equal pieces for medium round loaves (pain de menage or miche only)

  • If you making one large round loaf (pain de menage, miche, or pain boulot), you will not cut the dough at all and just need to follow the directions below.

After you have cut each piece, lift one end and flip it over onto the opposite end to fold the dough into two;


place dough at far side of kneading surface. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic and let rest for 5 minutes before forming. This relaxes the gluten enough for shaping but not long enough for dough to begin rising again.

While the dough is resting, prepare the rising surface; smooth the canvas or linen towelling on a large tray or baking sheet, and rub flour thoroughly into the entire surface of the cloth to prevent the dough from sticking


Step 6: Forming the loaves – la tourne; la mise en forme des patons

Because French bread stands free in the oven and is not baked in a pan, it has to be formed in such a way that the tension of the coagulated gluten cloak on the surface will hold the dough in shape.

For Long Loaves - The Batard: (Baguettes are typically much too long for home ovens but the shaping method is the same)

After the 3 pieces of dough have rested 5 minutes, form one piece at a time, keeping the remaining ones covered.

Working rapidly, turn the dough upside down on a lightly floured kneading surface and pat it firmly but not too roughly into an 8 to 10 inch oval with the lightly floured palms of your hands. Deflate any gas bubbles in the dough by pinching them.

Fold the dough in half lengthwise by bringing the far edge down over the near edge.


Being sure that the working surface is always lightly floured so the dough will not stick and tear, which would break the lightly coagulated gluten cloak that is being formed, seal the edges of the dough together, your hands extended, thumbs out at right angles and touching.


Roll the dough a quarter turn forward so the seal is on top.

Flatten the dough again into an oval with the palms of your hands.

Press a trench along the central length of the oval with the side of one hand.


Fold in half again lengthwise.

This time seal the edges together with the heel of one hand, and roll the dough a quarter of a turn toward you so the seal is on the bottom.


Now, by rolling the dough back and forth with the palms of your hands, you will lengthen it into a sausage shape. Start in the middle, placing your right palm on the dough, and your left palm on top of your right hand.

Roll the dough forward and backward rapidly, gradually sliding your hands towards the two ends as the dough lengthens.

Deflate any gas blisters on the surface by pinching them. Repeat the rolling movement rapidly several times until the dough is 16 inches long, or whatever length will fit on your baking sheet. During the extension rolls, keep circumference of dough as even as possible and try to start each roll with the sealed side of the dough down, twisting the rope of dough to straighten the line of seal as necessary. If seal disappears, as it sometimes does with all purpose flour, do not worry.

Place the shaped piece of dough, sealed side up, at one end of the flour rubbed canvas, leaving a free end of canvas 3 to 4 inches wide.


The top will crust slightly as the dough rises; it is turned over for baking so the soft, smooth underside will be uppermost.

Pinch a ridge 2 1/2 to 3 inches high in the canvas to make a trough, and a place for the next piece. Cover dough with plastic while you are forming the rest of the loaves.

After all the pieces of dough are in place, brace the two sides of the canvas with long rolling pins, baking sheets or books, if the dough seems very soft and wants to spread out. Cover the dough loosely with flour rubbed dish towel or canvas, and a sheet of plastic. Proceed immediately to the final rising, next step.

(Breadchick and Sara Note: Empty paper towel tubes and/or bottles of spices work well as braces as well)


For Long Thin Loaves – Fincelles: Follow the steps above but making thinner sausage shapes about 1/2 inch in diameter. When they have risen, slash as with the Batard.

For Oval Rolls – Petits Pains, Tire-Bouchons: Form like batards, but you will probably not have to lengthen them at all after the two foldings and sealings. Place rolls on a floured canvas about 2 – 4” apart and cover with plastic to rise. When they have risen, make either 2 parallel slashes or a single slash going from one end to the other.

For Small, Medium, or Large Round Loaves – Pain de Menage, Miches, Boules: The object here is to force the cloak of coagulated gluten to hold the ball of dough in shape: the first movement will make cushion; the second will seal and round the ball, establishing surface tension.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.

Lift the left side of the dough with the side of your left hand and bring it down almost to the right side.

Scoop up the right side and push it back almost to the left side. Turn the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat the movement 8 – 10 times. The movement gradually smooths the bottom of the dough and establishes the necessary surface tension; think of the surface of the dough as if it were a fine sheet of rubber you were stretching in every direction.

Turn the dough smooth side up and begin rotating it between the palms of your hands, tucking a bit of the dough under the ball as you rotate it. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped ball with a little pucker of dough, le cle, underneath where all the edges have joined together.

Place the dough pucker side up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the pucker by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with either a long central slash, two long central slashes that cross at right angles, or a semi-circular slash around half the circumference.

For Small Round Rolls – Petits Pains, Champignons: The principles are the same here as for the preceding round loaves, but make the cushion shape with your fingers rather than the palms of your hands.

For the second stage, during which the ball of dough is rotated smooth side up, roll it under the palm of one hand, using your thumb and little finger to push the edges of the dough underneath and to form the pucker, where the edges join together

Place the formed ball of dough pucker side up on the flour rubbed canvas and cover loosely while forming the rest. Space the balls 2 inches apart. When risen to almost triple its size, lift gently with lightly floured fingers and place pucker side down on baking sheet. Rolls are usually too small for a cross so make either one central slash or the semi-circular cut.

For Large Oval Loaf – Pain Boulot: Follow the directions for the round loaves except instead of rotating between the balms of your hands and tucking to form a round loaf, continue to turn the dough from the right to the left, tucking a bit of each end under the oblong loaf. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped oval with tow little puckers of dough, le cles, underneath where all the edges of have joined together.

Place the dough pucker sides up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the puckers by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with parallel slashes going diagonally across the top starting from the upper left and going to the lower right.

Step 7: Final Rise – l’appret - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours at around 70 degrees

The covered dough is now to rise until almost triple in volume; look carefully at its pre-risen size so that you will be able to judge correctly. It will be light and swollen when risen, but will still feel a little springy when pressed.

It is important that the final rise take place where it is dry; if your kitchen is damp, hot, and steamy, let the bread rise in another room or dough will stick to the canvas and you will have difficulty getting it off and onto another baking sheet. 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.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees about 30 minutes before estimated baking time.

Step 8: Unmolding risen dough onto baking sheet – le demoulage.
(Breadchick and Sara note: we are only going to describe the unmolding of The Batard but the unmolding process is the same no matter the shape of your loaf or loaves. The key to unmolding without deflating your bread is slow and gentle!)

The 3 pieces of risen dough are now to be unmolded from the canvas and arranged upside down on the baking sheet. The reason for this reversal is that the present top of the dough has crusted over during its rise; the smooth, soft underside should be uppermost in the oven so that the dough can expand and allow the loaf its final puff of volume. For the unmolding you will need a non-sticking intermediate surface such as a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood sprinkled with cornmeal or pulverized pasta.


Remove rolling pins or braces. Place the long side of the board at one side of the dough; pull the edge of the canvas to flatten it; then raise and flip the dough softly upside down onto the board.


Dough is now lying along one edge of the unmolding board: rest this edge on the right side of a lightly buttered baking sheet. Gently dislodge dough onto baking sheet, keeping same side of the dough uppermost: this is the soft smooth side, which was underneath while dough rose on canvas. If necessary run sides of hands lightly down the length of the dough to straighten it. Unmold the next piece of dough the same way, placing it to the left of the first, leaving a 3 inch space. Unmold the final piece near the left side of the sheet.

Step 9: Slashing top of the dough – la coupe.
(Breadchick and Sara Note: We will only describe the slashing for the Batard here. All other slashes for the other shapes are described in Step 6: Forming the Loaves)

The top of each piece of dough is now to be slashed in several places. This opens the covering cloak of gluten and allows a bulge of dough underneath to swell up through the cuts during the first 10 minutes of baking, making decorative patterns in the crust. These are done with a blade that cuts almost horizontally into the dough to a depth of less than half an inch. Start the cut at the middle of the blade, drawing toward you in a swift clean sweep. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, and you will probably make ragged cuts at first; never mind, you will improve with practice. Use an ordinary razor blade and slide one side of it into a cork for safety; or buy a barbers straight razor at a cutlery store.

For a 16 to 18 inch loaf make 3 slashes. Note that those at the two ends go straight down the loaf but are slightly off centre, while the middle slash is at a slight angle between the two. Make the first cut at the far end, then the middle cut, and finally the third. Remember that the blade should lie almost parallel to the surface of the dough.

Step 10: Baking – about 25 minutes; oven preheated to 450 degrees (230 degrees C).

As soon as the dough has been slashed, moisten the surface either by painting with a soft brush dipped in cold water, or with a fine spray atomizer, and slide the baking sheet onto rack in upper third of preheated oven. Rapidly paint or spray dough with cold water after 3 minutes, again in 3 minutes, and a final time 3 minutes later. Moistening the dough at this point helps the crust to brown and allows the yeast action to continue in the dough a little longer. The bread should be done in about 25 minutes; the crust will be crisp, and the bread will make a hollow sound when thumped.

If you want the crust to shine, paint lightly with a brush dipped in cold water as soon as you slide the baking sheet out of oven.


Step 11: Cooling – 2 to 3 hours.
(Breadchick and Sara Note: We know this will be the hardest thing to do for this challenge. But, if you do not let the French bread cool, the bread will be doughy and the crust will be soft. If you want to have warm French bread, re-heat the bread after it has cooled in a 400 degree oven, uncovered and directly on the oven rack for 10 – 12 minutes if it is unfrozen. If it has been frozen see the directions below)

Cool the bread on a rack or set it upright in a basket or large bowl so that air can circulate freely around each piece. Although 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.

Step 12: Storing French bread
Because it contains no fats or preservatives of any kind, French bread is at its best when eaten the day it is baked. It will keep for a day or two longer, wrapped airtight and refrigerated, but it will keep best if you freeze it – let the loaves cool first, then wrap airtight. To thaw, unwrap and place on a baking sheet in a cold oven; heat the oven to 400 degrees. In about 20 minutes the crust will be hot and crisp, and the bread thawed. The French, of course, never heat French bread except possibly on Monday, the baker’s holiday, when the bread is a day old.

Step 13: Canvas housekeeping
After each bread session, if you have used canvas, brush it thoroughly to remove all traces of flour and hang it out to dry before putting away. Otherwise the canvas could become mouldy and ruin your next batch of dough.

The Simulated Bakers’ Oven

Baking in the ordinary way, as described in the preceding recipe, produces an acceptable loaf of bread but does not nearly approach the glory you can achieve when you turn your home oven into a baker’s oven. Merely providing yourself with the proper amount of steam, if you can do nothing else, will vastly improve the crust, the color, the slash patterns, and the volume of your bread; steam is only a matter of plopping a heated brick or stone into a pan of water in the bottom of the oven. The second provision is a hot surface upon which the naked dough can bake; this gives that added push of volume that improves both the appearance and the slash patterns. When you have the hot baking surface, you will then also need a paddle or board upon which you can transfer dough from canvas to hot baking surface. For the complete set up here is you should have, and any building-supply store stocks these items.

For the hot baking surface: Metal will not do as a hot baking surface because it burns the bottom of the dough. The most practical and easily obtainable substance is ordinary red floor tiles 1/4” thick. They come in various sizes such as 6 x 6, 6 x 3, and you only need enough to line the surface of an oven rack. Look them up under Tiles in your Directory, and ask for “quarry tiles” their official name.


(Breadchick and Sara Note: When this book was written, quarry tiles had a fair amount of asbestos in them. Today, in North America and Europe, they normally are made of clay. Make sure if you decide to go purchase some quarry tiles you only purchase unglazed quarry tiles because most of the glazes used contain lead or some other nasty substance that could get transferred. A large pizza stone will also work but make sure it is at least 1/4 inch thick because the thinner ones can break when used at the high heats that baking bread requires. Make sure you never put wet tiles in the oven because they can shatter or worse as the oven heats up.)

For unmolding the risen dough from its canvas: A piece of 3/16 inch plywood about 20 inches wide.

For sliding the dough onto the hot tiles: When you are doing 3 long loaves, you must slide them together onto the hot tiles; to do so you unmold them one at a time with one board and arrange them side by side on the second board, which takes place on the baker’s paddle, la pelle. Buy a piece of plywood slightly longer but 2 inches narrower than your oven rack.

(Breadchick and Sara note: Today, you can buy a real baker’s paddle easily online or at a restaurant supply store for about the same money as a piece of plywood and it will have a bevelled edge that will make sliding loaves in and out of the oven easier)

To prevent dough from sticking to unmolding and sliding boards: White cornmeal or small dried pasta pulverized in the electric blender until it is the consistency of table salt. This is called fleurage.

The steam contraption: Something that you can heat to sizzling hot on top of the stove and then slide into a pan of water in the oven to make a great burst of steam: a brick, a solid 10lb rock, piece of cast iron or other metal. A 9 x 12 inch roasting pan 2 inches deep to hold an inch of water and the hot brick.

(Breadchick and Sara note: Other ways to get steam in the oven is pre-heat the oven and then to fill a pan with ice cubes put it on the lower rack and then pour warm water into the pan. The temperature difference between the ice cubes and the warm water will create steam. Also you can toss ice cubes on the bottom of the oven. Put a metal baking sheet on the bottom rack, pre-heat the oven with the baking sheet in the oven and right before you put your loaves in, spritz water onto the pan.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Help! How Do I Use Up a Bag of Flour??

I was organizing my flour and spice pantry last night. I needed to get a good idea of what I had from a spice standpoint and what if any flours I needed to use in the next few weeks/months. I don't want to waste any, especially with the high cost of wheat and the projected flour shortages for the upcoming months. Flour is a precious commodity under normal circumstance in my house but now it is more valuable than oil.

Of all the flours I had in my pantry and freezer, only two are nearing the end of their shelf life, my high gluten King Arthur Sir Lancelot (which I use quite a bit for my breads) and most of a bag of King Arthur Self Rising Flour.

So, my dear lovely readers, what should I do with the three-quarter of a 5lb bag of King Arthur Self Rising Flour I purchased for the Coconut Curry Cake that was part of the "Where Flavor Was Born" cookbook round table?

Submit your ideas on how to use up the KA Self Rising Flour to me in the comments section and don't forget to leave your email address when you comment.

I'll pick a few of the recipes from the submitters and we'll do a "Self Rising Flour Recipe Round-Up" in March as part of a theme week on flour!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some Peanut Butter Served with a Prickly Riesling

As you may have sensed from some of my more political posts of the past, I lean rather left of the central line of American politics. The irony of this leftward leaning is that I seem to have a knack for attracting some rather right leaning friends and lovers. I suspect this may either be the influence of my father, a stalwart Republican or my absolute thrill in participating in a rousing intellectual discussion that resembles a debate operating under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.

A few years ago, not long after I had met W, he introduced me to the non-political writings of William F. Buckley, the opinionated and erudite founder of the National Review. Mr. Buckley, a man who knew how to turn a phase or two, wrote what I consider some of the best writing about sailing and living your life to its fullest with a take no prisoners style. And this surprised me to no end. I was stunned when I read "Airborne" for the first time. How could a man who founded a magazine that caused my liberal heart to seize and my blood boil write such beautiful poetry about water, waves and the sound of the wind singing in the sails?

William F. Buckley died today at the age of 82. He was found this morning in the next town over from me here in Connecticut by his cook and here is where we get to the food part of this post.

Mr. Buckley, loved many things in this world; far more I suspect than he hated. But, one of his great loves was peanut butter. When he married his wife, Patrica, he declared that would have "peanut butter every day of the rest of my life for breakfast". He wrote poems to peanut butter and once declared that if he could only eat three foods the rest of his life they would be caviar, bread and peanut butter. In a great essay published several years ago, Mr. Buckley goes to great length to describe the comedy of errors that often arise from his need to have peanut butter for breakfast while traveling to foreign countries.

Last night, after the Democratic Debate finished, I crawled into bed with LB to begin reading a book I had recently acquired, "Cruising Speed: A Documentary", in which Buckley describes a week long sailing trip including all the food he consumed during that trip. Little did I know that less than ten miles away, the man who in the book called my favourite wine "prickly" and lobster a "mellifluous, redolent creature endowed with looks and claws that could scare mortals and gods alike" was breathing his last breaths on this earth.

Today, while reading a few other online memories of William F. Buckley, I opened my desk drawer, pulled out a "Jif to Go", spread it on a few water crackers and read about a man with whose politics I may not have agreed with but whom I admired for his ability to write the most lovely of words.

All that was missing was a glass of that prickly Riesling to wash them down with...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It Really Is the Start of the "Silly Season" Isn't It?

My long time readers know that despite working in a business that puts me in the middle of a lot of major sporting venues, I'm not a huge sports fan. Yea, I watch baseball and hockey and even have some favourite teams (Red Sox and Flames come to mind), but if I had to name one sport that I follow with a passion it would be politics.

I'm a political junkie and right now, in the throes of one of the best presidential elections in my memory, I'm telling you it is like watching the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the World Series all rolled into one game!

Now, you are asking yourself, "what in the Wide, Wide World of Sports" (bonus points if anyone leaves a comment and tell me not only the movie but the actor who uttered that line in one of my all time favourite movies) does this have to do with food?

Well, in today's New York Times online political blog "The Caucus", there was a post about the amount of money all the political campaigns, both Democrat and Republican, have spent at bakeries during the primary season.

Apparently Hillary Clinton isn't the only person making someone get up to make the doughnuts...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Presto Pasta Night: One Year of Pasta and Counting

It has been one year since my good blogging friend Ruth of Once Upon a Feast offered the opportunity for food bloggers to submit their favourite pasta recipes to her for a once a week event called Presto Pasta Night!

Happy Birthday Ruth and PPN!

I admit, I keep a few boxes of quick meal starters in my pantry. I like to have them on hand for those days and nights I just don't feel like cooking everything from scratch. I also always add to them to create a more healthy and tasty meal. I keep a box of Suddenly Salad Classic Pasta Salad, Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff, and a box of Stove Top Stuffing. There is also one other box that has nothing to do with starting a meal and everything to do with comfort food, a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

When I'm not feeling well or I just want to feel like a care free college student again without the weight of an adult life on my shoulders, I will fix myself some Kraft Mac and Cheese. There is something about that bright orange cheese covered noodles that just makes me feel better.

I was stricken most of last week with that same insidious flu that has struck Sher and Mimi along with countless other food bloggers, so there wasn't a lot of good cooking going on in my house last week. To add insult to injury, I threw my back out and hurt my wrist on Saturday morning, the first day I was even beginning to feel like eating real food, when I failed to perfectly land a double triple lutz jump in the ice skating rink that doubles as a parking lot of the Stop and Shop. Needless to say, after a trip to the emergency room that informed me I had not broken anything and then laying flat on my back most of Saturday with muscle relaxants my only friend, I felt like cooking even less over the weekend.

Thankfully, this is where pasta and presto come together to form the perfect marriage of hearty comfort food that is easy on the tummy and the back, in the form of my pantry staple tuna casserole.

I invented this dish my first year out of college. I was subletting a condo located on the shores of Lake Michigan in a small town outside of Traverse City, MI for the winter. I had my first real job and like most first jobs, it didn't pay much. So, while I was out of college, I was still having to shop like I was in college. One snowy winter night, when all I could see out the back door was snow flying horizontally across the yard and hear the clanging of the rope on the flagpole down near the lake, I opened my cabinet in the kitchen to discover a can of tuna, three pieces of bread, and a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. In my fridge was three cans of beer, a pint of milk, some shredded cheddar cheese, and half a tomato.

Wanting to make myself a hearty and warm meal to sit and watch the snow with, I decided to follow the directions on the back of the box to add tuna to the mac and cheese. I also decided to add some of the shredded cheese to make it cheesier and top it with some breadcrumbs and tomato and put it under the broiler until the breadcrumbs were golden brown and the tomatoes warm and toasty. It came out warm and bubbly and it was perfect with a side of sweet pickles and a beer.

To this day, whenever I want to feel better, I think about this meal because I made it on one of my first nights in my first real adult home with my groceries bought with money I earned from my first job and it was one of the most satisfying meals I ever made.

Breadchick's Pantry Staple Tuna Casserole

1 box stove top mac and cheese dinner
1 can tuna in spring water
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 small tomato or 6 cherry tomatoes
3 slices bread
1 Tbsp softened unsalted butter

Prepare the mac and cheese dinner per the box instructions. Drain the tuna and add to the mac and cheese along with the shredded cheese. Put into a prepared 2 Qt casserole dish. Butter the bread and tear up into little pieces and top the casserole. Slice the tomato(es) and put on top of the buttered bread pieces. Place under a broiler for 5 - 7 minutes until bread pieces toasted and tomatoes are warm.

Serve with a salad.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Throwback Thursday: Welsh Rabbit

I've been wanting to do a monthly posting on my blog that takes its inspiration from my excessive obsession with old cookbooks. So, after a few months of planning I was set to roll out my inaugural post tonight with one of those dishes like Captain Chicken or Swiss Steak when I came down with the flu. There is nothing like being sick to make you not even want to stand up to pour the orange juice let alone stand over a saute pan breaking down tomatoes to make a the sauce for Swiss Steak.

But, I didn't want to completely give up on my plan to post a dish from one of my old cookbooks. So, this afternoon while I was sitting on my couch in a sun spot with LB, I flipped through my 1956 edition of the Good Housekeeping Cook Book

and found the perfect dish for someone sick who didn't want to cook a huge meal and wanted some comfort food, Welsh Rabbit.

Welsh Rabbit is an old fashioned dish of cheese sauce on top of toast. It is sometimes called Welsh Rarebit. It was served in my family quite often on Fridays during Lent and my grandmother served it to us grandkids for lunch on rainy days when we couldn't go out and play. My mother would also serve it to my brother and I when we were sick.

The recipe I chose from the Good Housekeeping Cook Book was the recipe for Welsh Rabbit with Beer. Um, beer when your sick? I had a grandmother who was Irish and believed that nothing cured what ailed you than a little whiskey or a beer. This recipe was also a great excuse to use up all the little quarter bags of shredded cheese I've been hoarding.

The recipe for Welsh Rabbit is simple. Pour 1/2 the beer into a skillet and add some dry mustard, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and bring it to a simmer. Then you stir in your cheese until it is melted. Then once it all melted, you remove it from the heat and pour it over some toasted English muffins. When you are all said and done, you spend about 10 minutes cooking and what you have on your plate is a tasty and filling dinner.

The perfect meal for an invalid like me...

Welsh Rabbit with Beer

Makes six servings

1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dry mustard
2/3 cup beer or heavy cream
1 1/2 to 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I use a mix of cheeses. You can use any cheese you like for this dish)
6 slices Toasted bread or split toasted English muffins

In a wide skillet (a non stick skillet is perfect for this dish), mix paprika, mustard, and stir in the beer or cream and Worcestershire sauce. Place over very low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in cheese and keep stirring until melted. Spoon over bread or English muffins and sprinkle with paprika. Serve warm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

There's No Whining in Baking

I'm not sure if it is because I'm older than some of my fellow food bloggers and something has happened to make everyone part of a culture of complaining or if it is because I have the flu and therefore a lot shorter patience quotient than normal (and my normal quotient isn't very large, about 1/8 of a cup) But I've about had it up to my eyebrows with the whining and crying I've been witnessing of late in food blog land.

There is crying going on about various themes of food blog events. There has been stomping of feet and pounding of fists over recipes or cookbooks selected. There's pouting over ingredients required and techniques used. I've even seen nastiness over how much time it takes to do some recipes. Guess what...

There's no whining in baking.

Nope, don't see whining called for in the chocolate chip cookie recipe in the "Joy of Cooking". Martha didn't call for whining in her ricotta cheesecake recipe found in her "Baking Handbook". Even though he get's a little whiny on America's Test Kitchen, Christopher Kimball didn't include any whining in his master recipe for Cream Pie in "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook". I'm pretty sure that Dorie didn't include 2Tbsp of whining in her World Peace Cookie recipe. Nope, just looked in "Baking from My Home to Yours". Not there...

So, here's my suggestion for all of you who feel the need to whine about the food blogging events you are involved in:

A. Make sure you really, really want to participate for the right reason, you like to cook or bake the type of food the host or hostess is offering as the theme.

B. Make sure you are joining the group you are joining because you want to be there and not because it is the "cool group" to be part of this month in the blogosphere.

C. Cooking and Baking take time. Unless the event is how fast can you microwave that pizza you just bought at the local convenience store, you are going to spend at least 3 or more hours in the kitchen. That's the facts Jack. Cooking and baking from scratch take some time. You aren't going to have a finished loaf of bread, cake, or cheesecake in any much less time than three hours. Now, this doesn't mean ACTIVE time, that is over all time before you can eat it! So, if a recipe says "let dough rise for 3 - 4 hours" this doesn't mean you have to stand in the kitchen watching the dough rise. You can leave your house/kitchen. Go do other things, like run to the bank, read a book in the backyard with an adult beverage. You know, do things!

I personally think part of the fun of food blogging events is pushing myself to try something I wouldn't do normally with a group of people with similar bent. The purpose of the food blogging event is not for someone to gripe about the recipe, complain and moan because they are forced to use an ingredient they don't like or cook from a cookbook by an author/chef they have distaste for. If that is why you decide to do that event, do the rest of us a favor, skip it please. Because guess what! There's no whining in baking...

OK, let me put my little soapbox over here and get on to something a bit more fun!

A few days ago Christina of She Runs, She Eats tagged me for a meme. As you know, I've sworn off memes but since Christina is one of my favourite blogging friends, I'll do one last one...

Here are the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Facts about me:

A. I minored in history with an emphasis on the American Civil War in college. I needed a B average to keep my engineering scholarships. I knew I would get C's in my calculus classes (I hate math tests) and get A's in history classes. So every semester I had to take an advanced math class, I took a history class (average of A and C = B) . I had math almost every semester so by the time I graduated I also had enough history credits to add a history minor to my credentials.

B. Until LB wandered into my life I hated cats and they hated me.

C. I still own the 100 yard backstroke record for the age group 12 - 14 at my hometown YMCA. My time was 1:00.32 (that is 1 minute and .32 seconds)

D. I love doing the NYT Crossword puzzle in ink on Saturday afternoon at my local watering hole.

E. I cross-stitch when I fly. I'm in the middle of working on a mantle tapestry for my mom that measures 6 feet long. I am only half way through and if my business travel stays on schedule for this year, she will get it for Christmas

OK, I'm not tagging anyone because most everyone I know has already done this meme but if you haven't and want to play along, consider yourself tagged! Just leave a comment here and let us all know you posted.

OH wow! Look, I have about 3 hours before I go to bed, that enough time to get a loaf of quick bread made. I wonder if I'll find whining in the ingredient list? (wink-wink)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Twelve Bread Baking Babes Take On Really Wet Dough

A few weeks ago, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups, issued an invite to a dozen dedicated bread bakers to join together and boldly go where no bread makers have gone before to the fringes of wet dough (do DOOOOOO do do do do do doooo. do DOOOOOO....well you know what the theme song is). Anyways, A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn), I Like to Cook (Sara), Living on Bread and Water (Monique), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Nami-Nami (Pille), Notitie van Lien (Lien), Thyme of Cooking (Katie), and What Did You Eat (Sher) all accepted and the Bread Baking Babes was born.


Our first recipe to tackle? Maggie Glazer's Royal Crown's Tortano

This rustic bread is one of the signature breads at Royal Crown Bakery in Brooklyn and is shaped in the round. This bread also starts out as a really wet dough, around 73% when all is said and done. It takes almost two full days to make the bread, so you have to start the night before with a pre-ferment. After letting the pre-ferment get all bubbly and sour, you combine the ingredients and have what amounts to dough soup.


If you have patience though (and remember to put all the flour in, which I almost didn't do!), after about 15 minutes you have a nice but very soft dough ball.


During the first rise, you have to turn the dough four times ala puff pastry. It is during this "turning" that the dough begins to come together. Also, you are strengthening the gluten so that during the rise after the forming of the loaf, the dough can support itself. After the first rise ends, you shape the loaf into the round shape and let it rise again.


One interesting thing about this bread is it is a slow riser but has incredible oven spring. I've never had a loaf spring like this one. In fact, I was pretty sure when it went into the oven that I would have a tasty but really flat bread. But after 20 minutes in the oven when I took a peak, the bread had tripled in size! By the time I pulled the really brown and crusty loaf out of the oven, the hole in the middle had all but closed up, leaving me with a little belly button instead of a doughnut.


That's OK, because this loaf was one of the most flavourful loaves with big huge holes that I've ever made


and judging by the response at the office, despite taking two days to make, this is one loaf that I'm making over and over.

If you want to see how A Fridge Full of Food (Glenna), Bake My Day (Karen), Cookie Baker Lynn (Lynn), I Like to Cook (Sara), Living on Bread and Water (Monique), Lucullian Delights (Ilva), My Kitchen in Half Cups (Tanna), Nami-Nami (Pille), Notitie van Lien (Lien), and What Did You Eat (Sher) did on their Royal Crown Tortano, you should click on over to see them. Especially check out our host kitchen, Karen of Bake My Day.

Would you like to be Bread Baking Buddy? Think you have what it takes to conquer this wet dough?? Want to earn a merit badge for you blog???

For those of you who want to give this bread a whirl and earn a merit badge for your blog, you can bake the bread sometime in the next week, blog about it and email Karen or leave her a comment with a link to your post. If you don't have a blog, still tell us about it! Karen will be putting a list of everyone who joined us this month for the Royal Crown Tortano and we'll send out a cute little badge. Remember, you only have one week to bake your bread so start those pre-ferments!!

Royal Crown's Tortano
(from Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glazer)

Recipe Quantity: One (1) 2 1/4lb (1200 gram) tortano

Time Required for Recipe: About 19 hours, with about 20 minutes of active work

Note about recipe: You will need to start this recipe the night BEFORE you want to bake the bread.

This is the most beautiful bread Royal Crown makes, a huge round loaf filled with radish size air cells, tanks to careful handling and lots of water in teh dough. Joe adds potato for flavor and moistness and honey for color to this very wet, squichy dough. For extra flavor, the bread is leavened solely by its starter, so it rises very slowly and develops a nice but not aggressive acidity. To get authentic Italian flavor, you will need to bake this bread to a deep, dark brown so don't skimp on the baking time - the bread will not burn.

Recipe Synopsis

The Evening Before Baking: Make the starter and if you like the mashed potato.

The Next Morning: Mix the dough and let it ferment for about 4 hours. Shape it, proof it for about 1 1/2 hours, and then bake the bread for about 45 minutes.

The Evening Before Baking: Making the Pre-Ferment:

Ingredients Volume (English units)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
2/3 cup unbleached bread flour
1 small potato

Ingredients Weight
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
3.5 ounces unbleached bread flour
3 ounce small potato

Ingredients Metric
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
100 grams unbleached bread flour
85 grams small potato

Ingredients Baker's Percentages
eventually 0.3% instant yeast
eventually 73% water 105 - 115 degrees F
100% unbleached bread flour
1 small potato

Stir the yeast into the water in a glass measure and let it stand for 5 - 10 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of this yeasted water (discard the rest) to the flour and beat this very sticky starter until it is well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment until it is full of huge bubbles and sharp tasting, about 12 hours. If your kitchen is very warm and the pre-ferment is fermenting very quickly, place it in the refrigerator after 3 hours of fermenting. In the morning, remove it and allow it to come to room temperature 30 minutes to an hour before beginning the final dough

Preparing the Potato: For efficiency, you may want to prepare the potato the night before. Quarter it, then boil it in water to cover until it can be easily pierced with a knife tip, about 20 minutes. Drain; if desired, reserve the water for the dough. Press the potato through a ricer or sieve to puree it and remove the skin. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator. You will need only 1/4 cup puree.

Bake Day: Mixing the Dough

Ingredients Volume (English units)
3 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 cups plus 3 Tbsp Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
2 tsp honey
1/4 cup packed Potato puree
1 Tbsp salt

Ingredients Weight
20 ounces unbleached bread flour
14.6 ounces Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
0.4 ounces honey
2 ounces Potato puree
0.5 ounces salt

Ingredients Metric
575 grams unbleached bread flour
420 grams Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
14 grams honey
60 grams Potato puree
15 grams salt

Ingredients Baker's Percentages
100% unbleached bread flour
73% Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
30% Pre-ferment
2% honey
10% Potato puree
2.4% salt

By Hand: Use your hands to mnix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in a large bowl. Cover the dough and let rest (autolyse) for 10 - 20 minutes.

Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato, and salt, and knead the dough until it is smooth, 5 - 10 minutes. It will start off feeling rubbery, then break down into goo; if you persist, eventually it will come together into a smooth, shiny dough. If you do not have the skill or time to knead it to smoothness, the bread will not suffer. This is a tremendously wet and sticky dough, so use a dough scraper to help you but do not add more flour, for it will ruin the texture of the bread.

By Stand Mixer: With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in the work bowl of your mixer. Cover the dough and let it rest (autolyse) for 10 - 20 minutes.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato and salt and the mix the dough on medium speed for 15 - 20 minutes, or until very silky and wraps around the hook and cleans the bowl before splaterring back around the bowl. This dough is almost pourably wet.

Fermenting and Turning the Dough:

Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in flour. Place it in a container at least 3 times its size and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until doubled in bulk and filled with large air bubbles, about 4 hours. Using plenty of dusting flour, turn the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals, that is, after 20, 40, 60, and 80 minutes of fermenting, the leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time. Do not allow this dough to over ferment or forment to the point of collapse, for the flavor and structure of your bread will suffer.

Shaping and Proofing the Dough:

Turn the fermented dough out onto a well floured work surface, round it and let it rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle a couche or wooden board generously with flour. Slip a baking sheet under the couche if you are using one for support.

Sprinkle a generous amount of flour over the center of the ball. Push your fingers into the center to make a hole, the rotate your hand around the hole to widen it, making a large 4 inch opening. The bread should have about 12 inch diameter.

Place the dough smooth side down on the floured couche or board and dust the surface with more flour. Drape it with plastic wrap and let it proof until it is light and slowly springs back when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheating the Oven:

Immediately after shaping the bread, arrange a rack on the oven's second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all the racks above the one being used. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (230 C)

Baking the Bread:

Unwrap the bread and flip it onto a floured peel or a sheet of parchment paper. Do not worry about damaging the bread as you handle it; it will recover int eh oven as long as it is not overproofed. Slash it with 4 radial cuts in the shape of a cross. Slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and bake until it is very dark brown, 40 -50 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake. Let the bread cool on a rack.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Got Grits?

I'm in Atlanta this week on a business trip. Last night, my client took us out to a restaurant in Midtown that specializes in southern home cooking with a modern twist, South City Kitchen.

I ordered a crab cake, pork chop with fried pork belly and hoppin' john with a side of mac and cheese, and topped it off with a banana pudding. All in all, pretty tasty. I'm not sure I was all that fond of the extra spicy edge to the mac and cheese but I really thought the hoppin' john and fried pork belly was excellent.

One of my dinner companions ordered smoked duck breast with grits. Now, I'm not exactly a grits girl. Which is pretty surprising considering my definite fondness for cream of wheat and corn bread.

So, my question dear readers, are you a grits person or not? How do you eat them? With a dollop of butter and salt on top or with a drizzle of maple syrup?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Meeting Arden Out of the Kitchen

Last spring, Stephanie, the brilliant mind behind Dispensing Happiness, sent out request for one of her Blogging By Mail (BBM) events. The theme of this BBM, was "A Few of My Favourite Things". Now, something you should know about Stephanie and BBM, she has this uncanny ability to pair up people with each other for BBM and have those people end up really, really liking each other! That was the case with me and J of Have Fork, Will Travel; who sent me that fabulous package of English goodies (of which I am still in love with the little espresso cups and spoons). Happily, I get to report that was also the case with me and the person I got send my package to, Arden of Uit de keuken van Arden (In the Kitchen with Arden)!

Over the past several months, Arden and I have exchanged emails and recipes. I've tried some of the breads she bakes on her blog, she tries some of the ones I bake. We report back to each other how our tries went because our flours and ingredients sometime differ. In other words, we have become friends. So, I was super excited when I learned she and her daughter were coming to New York City this month! When she learned how close I live to NYC, we decided we had to meet.

This past Saturday, we met at Grand Central Station at Penzey's Spice in the Grand Central Market. After Arden and her daughter had bought the spices they can't easily find in Holland, we wandered through the marketplace and then went to have lunch together at Junior's Cheesecake in the Dining Concourse.

After chattering about why blogged and how she and her daughter were enjoying NYC, we dug into our food. Both Arden and I ordered the Rueben Sandwich.

Arden's daughter had the cheeseburger and we shared the pickles and slaw that Junior's is famous for serving on the table.

Of course, we had to have cheesecake for dessert. It would be sacrilegious to go to Junior's and not have their world famous cheesecake! We had three pieces that we split so we could sample each of them: blueberry, chocolate swirl, and my favourite, plain.

Arden's daughter was pleasantly surprised how good the cheesecake was since she had only had poor imitations of New York Cheesecake. I also came out with a new favourite, the chocolate swirled.

While we were waiting for our cheesecakes to arrive, Arden and I exchanged some gifts we had brought for each other. I made a boule of bread with my potato sourdough starter. And look at the wonderful Dutch food stuffs Arden and her daughter brought me!

I have to admit, I already broke into the licorice and the Dutch windmill cookies. The chocolate sprinkles they explained are eaten on buttered bread in the morning. I have the perfect loaf of bread right now on my counter to try these with and the lovely little dish is filled with coffee flavoured candies. Arden's daughter picked that out specially for me, I can't wait to try them! Best of all though is they brought me real Dutch farmers cheese! This stuff is heavenly. I was in heaven on Sunday night when I made a toasted cheese sandwich with it.

After we had lunch, we wandered up stairs where did the tourist thing of standing on the mezzanine stairs overlooking the Grand Hall and the famous clock to have our picture taken

before wandering down 5th Avenue to do some window shopping and real shopping. In Barnes and Noble, Arden bought the Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook so she could try her hand at making one when she returned to Holland this week. While we enjoyed our dessert, we had talked about what types of cheese they could find in Holland they could substitute for the cream cheese used in the US for cheesecake. I think we came up a few good ideas and I can't wait to see how they turn out.

After showing Arden's daughter that Saks 5th Avenue is not Macy's, in the best of ways, it was time for me to depart downtown to meet with friends for dinner in The Village at The Village and for Arden and her daughter to finish up their afternoon of shopping and go see Chicago on Broadway.

It was wonderful meeting Arden and her daughter and now I can't wait until I can travel to Holland to meet up with her and her family again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's cold out there....

Tonight the wind has died down a bit but it is still darn cold out there (13 degrees F with a wind chill of 2). I came home from the gym tonight to find LB on the couch with his nose tucked under his paw.

By the the time I got LB fed and my lunch for tomorrow made and ready to go, all I really wanted was to put my big fuzzy slippers on, make myself a pot of tea, and crawl into bed with all the blankets tossed on the bed. And what did I have dinner tonight?

A big ole hunk of homemade bread with some homemade jam spread on it.

Sometimes, simple is all you need...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What Google Analytics Tells Me About You!

There were an awful lot of you out there looking for how many calories are in a paczki yesterday!

Trust me, you really, really don't want to know....

But, since you asked:
Calories in one (1) jam filled paczki: 450 calories and 25 grams of fat
Calories in one (1) pastry cream filled paczki: 640 calories and 42 grams of fat

You getting your gym clothes on now?!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Banned! All Over Some Pieces of Clay

A few days ago, I posted about the places I'm not allowed with adult supervision. Since then, I've received quite a few emails and a few comments wondering what the story is behind my being banned from the Watertown, MA Home Depot.

Just to put everyone's minds at ease (and probably destroy my reputation of being a bad girl), I wasn't banned because of any illegal activity or for anything awful. I was banned because I took some pictures of a box of unglazed quarry tiles in the flooring department.

Yup, I am banned for life from the Watertown, MA Home Depot because I took a picture for this blog.

It all started out so innocently. A few years ago when I was still living in Boston/Cambridge, I had reached a stage as a bread baker where I wanted more from my breads. I had mastered loaves made in loaf pans. I had even mastered keeping a sourdough starter alive for more than three weeks. I was ready to play in world of free form, artisan bread.

I did my research about how to get the best oven rise from these types of bread and every article I read said I needed a hot, stone like surface to achieve this. In other words, I had simulate a hearth oven in my home oven. The cheapest way I found was not to invest in an insert or even a pizza stone (and in fact most pizza stones are too small for this) but to go to my local hardware store and purchase enough 6 x 6 or 4 x 4 unglazed red clay quarry tiles to cover one rack of my oven! (Unglazed is key, most glazes contain lead and other nasty components that will get transfered to your bread... yuk!).

I measured my oven rack so I knew how many tiles of what size I needed and I was ready to go get my baking surface. Since I knew the small mom and pop hardware store in Harvard Square I liked to frequent didn't carry flooring, I was left with no choice but to head to the closest Home Depot. I was all giddy. This was going to be great! I could document the whole process from buying my tiles, to "installing" then on my oven rack, to baking my first boule and then blog about how to get a home style hearth and how Home Depot could help!!

It was a Saturday and the place was mobbed. After driving around the parking lot for about 20 minutes, I finally found a place to park W's car and making sure I had my digital camera, I walked into the store and headed to the flooring department. I found my tiles right away and pulling out my digital camera I took a picture of the 6 tiles I needed stacked on top of the box they came from. I even took a picture of the label so the next person who wanted to try making a home hearth at home would know the exact tile to go get from their local Home Depot. I got a few strange looks but then that is normal for me. And then the guy in the orange vest walked over...
"Um, excuse me, Ma'm. You can't take pictures of our products."

"Excuse me? I'm just taking a picture of the tiles for my baking blog because I want to make a hearth surface in my oven to bake bread."

"Well, you can't take pictures"

"Why not? It's just your average quarry tile. Not like you have a secret formula for them or they are illegal to purchase"

"It is because of national security reasons. I need to see you delete those pictures so I don't have to take your camera and then I'm going to have to ask you to leave and please do not return to the store because you will not be allowed to come back to this store. If you return, we will be forced to have you arrested for trespassing."

EXCUSE ME?!! National security reasons!!! In Home Depot!!!!! In Watertown, MA!!!!!! I'm being put on some national security watch list in Home Depot, in Watertown MA by some pimple faced, over zealous, paranoid assistant flooring department manager because I want to bake some bread on some plain, unglazed quarry tiles. Not wanting to cause any trouble and more specifically not wanting to spend my nine bucks in that store, I left...

And drove to the Lowes in Woburn, MA where not only was I allowed to take pictures but as soon as I explained to the guy in the flooring department why I only needed six tiles, he said that was really cool and that one of the ladies in the kitchen design department used the tiles for the same thing!

My unglazed red clay quarry tiles from the Woburn, MA Lowes

Before I knew it, he had gotten the lady over to the flooring department where we swapped bread stories and she gave me few tips on what to do to care for my tiles and how to heat them and other really cool ideas for getting the most out of simulating a bakers oven at home.

I've been happily using them ever since as well as directing anyone who wants to make a simulated baker's oven out of unglazed quarry tiles to their local Lowes, especially if you live in Watertown, MA.

My Lowes quarry tiles in action with my black olive, cilantro, and sun dried tomato bread boule

So, there you have it. The reason I'm banned from the Home Depot in Watertown, MA.

Now, if you thought that was hoot, you really would get a kick out of how I was almost banned from the Traverse City, MI Cherry Capital Airport for trying to smuggle some chocolate cherry fruit cake home in my carry-on bag...

Black Olive, Garlic, Cilantro and Sun Dried Tomato Bread

adapted from Paul Hollywood's Cypriot Olive and Cilantro Bread found his 100 Great Breads

4 1/2 cups of bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp dry active yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1 head garlic, roasted
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Roast the garlic and remove cloves so that they remain in one piece. Allow to cool.

Proof the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. While yeast is proofing, measure out flour into a mixing bowl and set aside. Pour proofed yeast, remaining water, and olive oil into a large stand mixer bowl and combine using the dough hook. Add salt and then slowly 1/2 cup at a time, add the flour until a wet dough is formed. Remove bowl from stand mixer, the rest of this bread has to be done by hand.

Add olives, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic cloves, and cilantro to the wet dough mixture and gently combine so that the garlic cloves remain whole. Pour dough onto floured surface and slowly add remaining flour by handful until a slightly sticky but firm dough is formed. Allow dough to rest 10 minutes. Test dough for stickiness. The dough should be soft and ever so slight tacky but not sticky.

Gently knead dough for about 5 minutes until very pliable and soft. Put back into the bowl and allow to rise until double.

Gently punch down and divide dough into 2 pieces. Form two boules and sprinkle with flour. Set boules on parchment paper corn meal prepared baking sheets and cover lightly. Allow to rise until double about 1 1/2 hours.

While the boules are rising, place one of the oven racks in the middle of the oven and the other at the very bottom and pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. If using baking stone or quarry tiles, make sure the tiles/stone are in the oven on the middle rack when you pre-heat. This will take about 1 1/2 hours. It is important to allow the tiles/stone to heat all the way through to achieve the extra spring.

About 5 minutes before you are ready to bake the boules, place a large pan filled with ice cubes on the bottom of the oven and pour 2 cups of hot water over the ice cubes and quickly shut the oven door. The difference between the ice cubes and the hot water will create instant steam.

Unmold the boules and quickly place them in the prepared oven. Shut the door and do not open the door until the loaves are golden brown and the internal temperature of the loaves is 200 degrees, about 3o minutes.

Remove boules from the oven and cool on wire racks. Allow boules to cool completely before slicing.