Wednesday, May 04, 2005

French Country Bread

I have been so busy the last couple of weeks, I have already committed the cardinal sin of bloggers and haven't posted a thing for 10 days now. Sorry to my small readership-I promise to update more often.

This week has been a great baking week and there is nothing like fresh baked bread with a crisp crust and some ripe cheese. I practiced making some French artisinal bread, French country bread to be more specific. It includes 8-10% wheat flour vs. 100% unbleached bread flour as the regular French artisinal bread does. Why is it called artisinal? Because it resembles the bread made by the small bakers who crafted the technique of using pate fermentee (fermented dough), or old dough reserved from part of the last batch of bread to make their next batch. Artisinal bread has a richer, slightly sour flavor and I think it is well worth the extra step.

I love the process of making bread, and it doesn't take as much time as one might think. Yes, hours are needed for raising and proofing, but that is time that you can spend reading, cleaning, excercising, or making homemade soup to accompany your fresh baked baguettes! This time, I mixed up and kneaded the pate fermentee on Sunday evening and let the dough rise while Lou and I went out for Sushi. When we returned, I put it in the refrigerator to ferment for 1 to 3 days. Monday, I was way too busy, but on Tuesday, I found time to mix up the Pain de Campagne, or country bread. It was a recipe out of The Bread Maker's Apprentice, which is a great book if you are interested in learning the craft of breadmaking. After mixing and kneading, the dough is left to rise for 2 hours, enough time to go to the gym. The bread is then shaped and proofs for an hour while I make dinner. My favorite part is shaping the bread into boules or baguettes or whatever shape you prefer. (A boule is the round loaf and to make one you need a banneton, or proofing basket.) I would love to teach you the entire shaping process, but I'm afraid I would lose most of you if I tediously described the steps. It's really not that difficult to do, just hard to explain. I'd suggest either buying a book with pictures or learning the technique in a class such as the "French Artisinal Breads" class in the Weekend Gourmet program at the California Culinary Academy. I've done both because I find the pictures in The Bread Makers Apprentice help refresh my memory of what I learned in class. The actual baking process is even more fun! Of course to get nice crusty bread with a moist crumb inside, it is best baked in a brick oven with steam, but if you don't have a brick oven, a baking stone and a pan of hot water will do the trick. Just preheat the oven with a sheet or cake pan on the top rack then pour simmering water into the pan just before you place the scored loaves onto the baking stone. You can create additional steam by spraying the walls of the oven with water from a spray bottle (you can find details of this method in the book). I suggest letting the bread cool before taking a bite, but who can resist? Slap a piece of butter or some ripened soft cheese on a steaming slice and you will know why you took the time.

No comments: