I’m taking a moment from my NY holiday to pay tribute to the grand dame of the kitchen, Julia Child. Before there were food blogs, the Food Network, or Martha Stewart, there was Julia. On this day in 1912 she entered this world and I don’t think it will ever be the same. Don’t get me wrong, blogs are a great source of sharing and Martha Stewart is a great show (well, used to be ,years ago). I have no interest in the Food Network since it’s more about glam appeal than actual cooking. How many times can Diners and Drive In’s be on in one day?? Since when did so called “reality” cooking shows replace actual cooking shows? I don’t get the appeal in this genre at all. Since I am here at my mom’s I am getting to watch the PBS offshoot, Create. Gosh, I wish I got this channel back home! Caio Bella and Jacques Pepin have a nice home at this channel. PBS certainly was well ahead of its time when it began airing The French Chef back in 1963. She was the first woman to bring “fancy” cooking into the homes of “ordinary” Americans. The other day PBS was airing the quiche episode and it was such fun to watch. Without a doubt, Julia Child has become an American treasure.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has also placed Child’s beloved Cambridge, Mass., kitchen back on display for a limited time. I was lucky enough to see it when it first appeared (my sister was living in Virginia at the time) but would love the chance to go back and see it again.
So, in honor of this great lady, the Bread Baking Babes have invited all us buddies to bake right along with them this month and bake Pain Français (French Bread), which was published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2 in 1970. This was a landmark achievement in that it brought French bread into the purview of the home baker for the first time, and showed home bakers how to set up their ovens to approximate the ones used by professional bakers. Julia and her co-author Simone Beck consulted with the renowned baking expert, Professor Raymond Calvel, to develop the recipe and technique for home bakers. What is funny, well, actually scary and shocking, is that they advised lining the inside of your stove with asbestos tiles. After the printing of the book she learned how dangerous asbestos actually is. Ah, we all live and learn, correct? This is a great book to have in your cookbook library and I recommend you buy one or borrow it from your local library for a great read. And while you’re at it, why not read My Life In France, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, or Dearie ?
I wanted to bake this bread before I came to New York since I knew that it would be hot and humid here. I had made it before, but of course did not take any pictures, since well, that would have been too easy. Instead, I baked it the day before I was flying and in my running around and doing 10 things at once, I burned the bread. Not actually burned it, but definitely baked it 5-7 minutes too long….
- 3 baguettes or batards or boules
- Or 6 short loaves (ficelles)
- Or 12 rolls (petits pains)
- mix and knead: 15 minutes
- first rise: 3 hours
- second rise: 1.5 – 2 hours
- divide, rest, and shape: 15 minutes
- final rise: 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours
- prepare to bake: 10 minutes
- bake: 25 minutes
- cool: 2 – 3 hours
- one cake (0.6 ounce or 17 grams) fresh yeast or one package active dry yeast [Susan's note: Here are some equivalents: fresh yeast: 17 grams; active dry yeast: 0.25 ounce or 7 grams). You could also use 5.6 grams of instant yeast]
- 1/3 cup warm water (not over 100 degrees F)
- 3 1/2 cups (about one pound) all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/4 cups tepid water (70 to 74 degrees F)
- Combine the yeast and warm water and let liquefy completely.
- Combine the yeast mixture with the flour, the salt, and the remaining water in a mixing bowl.
- Turn the dough onto a kneading surface and let rest for 2 – 3 minutes while you wash and dry the bowl.
- Knead the dough for 5 – 10 minutes. See the original recipe for details on Julia’s kneading technique [p. 59].
- Let the dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes, then knead again for a minute. The surface should be smooth and the dough will be soft and somewhat sticky.
- Return the dough to the mixing bowl and let it rise at room temperature (about 70F) until 3 1/2 times its original volume. This will probably take about 3 hours.
- Deflate [fold] the dough and return it to the bowl [p. 60].
- Let the dough rise at room temperature until not quite tripled in volume, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, prepare the rising surface: rub flour into canvas or linen towel placed on a baking sheet.
- Divide the dough into 3, 6, or 12 pieces depending on the size loaves you wish to make.
- Fold each piece of dough in two, cover loosely, and let the pieces relax for 5 minutes [p.62].
- Shape the loaves and place them on the prepared towel. See original recipe for detailed instructions [p. 62 or 68].
- Cover the loaves loosely and let them rise at room temperature until almost triple in volume, about 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours.
- Meanwhile, Preheat oven to 450F. Set up your “simulated baker’s oven” [p. 70] if you will use one.
- Using an “unmolding board,” transfer the risen loaves onto a baking sheet [p.65] or peel [p. 72].
- Slash the loaves.
- Spray the loaves with water and get them into the oven (either on the baking sheet or slide them onto the stone [p. 72]).
- Steam with the “steam contraption” [p. 71 and 72] or by spraying three times at 3-minute intervals.
- Bake for a total of about 25 minutes.
- Cool for 2 – 3 hours.