Making bread again, if you can stand it

In the past I have used the Julia Child recipe/method, as well as the Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated recipe/method, also that Irish guy Patrick Ryan and more recently I’ve been using the Slovak, Ethan Chlebowski’s YouTube video and recipe/method. I got to thinking about their respective recipes and decided to compare them. So I made a list converting everything into grams so I could be comparing apples to apples. And if you think that that exercise didn’t nearly break my head open, you are mistaken, numbers ugh—even with a computer doing the work. They are all different in their methods and in their recipes. And by that I mean quantities of every component is completely different in each recipe and the methods are wildly different.

So I decided to make my own bastard loaf. Two ingredients from the Cook’s Complicated, diastatic malt which makes the bread brown more deeply (and I happen to have a pound of it and you only use a teaspoon at a time) and a quarter cup of whole wheat sifted to remove bran. I essentially used the Slovak recipe which is the wettest dough but not so different from Julia and I used Julia’s salt quantity and I let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 days which is sort of the Irish guy’s deal. But I think they’d all agree that giving the dough a long cold rise really creates flavor. Or maybe I was creating monster. And it turned out I was!

But it was not the one I might have imagined. I try never to get angry or in any event express myself in anger. Really, anger is useless and so I try to remain as calm as I can when things aren’t working out (Which is not to say I won’t succumb occasionally to hysterical frustration). This, however, was not one of those remaining-calm occasions. As I may have mentioned before, when you have as foul a mouth as I do there is absolutely nothing you can scream in anger that feels equivalent to the situation since I use all those bad words all the time in circumstances not nearly as dire as this.

I was able to get one unblemished loaf out of this fiasco. And even the ones that weren’t prefect were pretty damn good. And home made butter for chrissake.

A recipe follows. I don’t want to put myself up there with the gods of bread I’ve mentioned here but for me this worked better than any of their recipes/methods and to be honest, I just want to have this as a record since I often gasbag on about how fabulous this or that is and then I don’t write the recipe down and it is then lost to the ages.

My French bread recipe/method

500 gr Flour (includes 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour sifted to remove the larger bran)

12 gr Salt

1 packet Yeast

1 tsp Diastatic malt

370 gr Warm water

Add the yeast and a tablespoon or so of flour to the water, mix and let sit

Add the malt and salt to the flour and mix. When the water has formed bubbles of yeast, add and mix the water into the flour. Probably I should have used my hands but I used a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel, not goddam plastic, and let rest 15-20 minutes

—As an aside here I have come to realize that the timing of stuff is super flexible. It’ll be fine but longer is better. Until it sticks to the goddam baking sheet, that is.

At this point I emptied all of it onto the counter and did a little kneading just to incorporate all of the flour and I put the dough in a clean bowl. Cover (I used a silicon cover thing) and let rest for a half hour.

Now comes the gluten production. Take a corner and stretch and fold, make a quarter turn and repeat, do this 4 times total then cover and let rest 25 minutes and repeat 3 times resting between each stretching session.

Now it goes into the refrigerator covered (I will admit to using plastic wrap here, which I reused later) for 48 hours. This seems like overkill but I dunno. I think you gotta do this. You may need to bop this down if it’s getting too big for its britches…I mean bowl.

After that you have to let the dough come to room temp or 65 degrees. I used a thermometer to temp it and it took over 3 hours to do this (Of course it was -5 outside)

When it’s reached 65 degrees you portion it out and shape the loaves. I put mine on that miserable bread pan to which my bread bonded. I had floured it but next time I will spray Pam on it or use parchment strips. Now it needs another long, say 1.5-2 hour rise. I covered it with that same plastic and a linen towel.

Preheat the oven to 475, or 450 on convection. I have aluminum pans with lava rock into which I pour boiling water so the interior of the oven is steamy. And then I cut the loaves and spray them with water like you use when you iron. Oh, like you iron.

Put the loaves in the oven and after 5 minutes turn them around and spray them again. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. And then pry them off the pan and let them rest for at least 2 hours.

French bread, redux

It’s getting to be fall. I’ve had enough of the damn garden and am, as always, longing for the more substantial food of winter much like I’ll be longing for tomatoes in January. So last week when it seemed like it was just gonna be fall and summer’s over, I defrosted a pot roast and made French bread.

Having just watched some guy with the unlikely name of Chlebowski make it in a YouTube video (see here) I used his process and I’d say it was more like French bread than I’ve accomplished before. On the other hand, I really used 2 different methods. One from some Irish guy who makes half his dough the day before so it gets more flavor and then co-mingles it the following day with when he makes the rest of it. Seems crazy.

Crazy fun! Where did I put that straight jacket anyway?

Bread and cabbage

I just had to make that cheesy cabbage thing I made for Easter again, mostly because in my enthusiasm for it I bought another Savoy cabbage but also because it was so delicious. So my sister came over (while staying socially distant as opposed to emotionally distant, that’s my department) for dinner. So, Savoy cabbage, cream, leeks and garlic topped with Gruyere cheese. You can’t not love it, it’s so luscious. I also made bread (some of which later became focaccia). I dunno. The bread was fine but it was not French bread. Not that you can’t love it, dense as it was.

So now I’m confused

Now that I know that my oven temperature is not right I have to adjust the temperature and, apparently, the time. Picture one at the left is the bread in the oven frantically rising. (The two pans on the bottom rack in the picture are lava rock which gets doused with boiling water to create steam, don’t ask me why this is, I am simply following orders, although not Julia’s) Anyway, I made the oven way hotter to something close to what Julia prefers. And the bread rose in a flash.

It also browned way faster than usual (and unevenly, I must say, for a billion dollar KitchenAid [just sayin’] oven) but in the end the bread was even closer to French bread than any other loaves I’ve managed to accomplish in the past even if it was only in the oven for 15 minutes instead of the usual 25. So I dunno, this is maddening. 

The problem here is that I’ve made it with the wrong temperature many times and the timing was fine now with the right temperature the timing is waaaay off. Where is Julia when I need her?

Thanks again Julia

I am inching closer and closer to real French bread. It isn’t rocket science but it is an equation. Thankfully I’ve become far less agitated when I’m making it. I just saunter into the kitchen like I own the place and Blam, there it goes. Three and a half cups of flour, a packet of yeast, one and three quarters of a cup of lukewarm water and salt. Mix, knead, and walk away.

There’s just nothing to this except the ingredients, a little muscle and time. Well, and heat. I was quite blasé about the bread rising this time and it may have over risen slightly. But the bread was FABULOUS. If I closed my eyes I could see myself in France. Of course, any time I close my eyes I see myself in France in a beret with a red scarf and an insouciant expression on my face as I snap my fingers at the garçon

As luck would have it, I did not have my phone when I cut it open and it was crispy crunchy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside. I am not sure what I did differently this time. But you can bet that I will be doing this again soon minus the snapping of fingers.

Closer and closer

My second attempt at making a French baguette using Julia Child’s recipe and method. It was VERY close. The texture in the interior was a little too dense but much closer than any other attempt I’ve made. I now have the fortitude to soldier on. Just kidding, I’m just plain nuts, ain’t nothing stopping me until I get it right.

I am so sorry Julia

Can you ever forgive me?

I have tried about 40 different ways of making French bread but somehow I never thought to ask Julia Child. She was there all the time. And it was the perfect loaf (almost). Cook’s Complicated indeed. Paul Hollywood, whatever. How did I not come to her first?

That I have not thought to try her recipe and method is astonishing in that I have all of her cookbooks, watch and rewatch her shows. I have read the books she wrote, the letters she wrote (collected in book form), the books written about her. I dream that I meet her and for some reason always thought I would meet her in real life. That did not happen. And I imagine I will not meet Jacques Pepin either. I am sure we’d have been friends. Julia and/or Jacques, I’m not fussy. Well, I am fussy but not about that.

The bread I made was easy enough. Relied on visuals rather than specific times and she explains things in an easy to understand way. It really came out nicely with a crispy crackly crunch like French  bread but the interior, called “the crumb,” was too dense. Not light and airy enough. It was delicious but just a bit off the mark crumb-wise.

There actually are some people I call “the Crumb” but we won’t get into that now.

You can watch her video here. I miss her.

A compendium of vacation food

Sorry about all the pictures, I’m one of those annoying people who take pictures of food in restaurants. But hey, I have an important food blog read by literally 10s of people…I gotta have pix. Bear with me. (For the correct use of bear vs bare in this case click here.) You know, or don’t bother looking at them. I can’t tell if you do or don’t.

Octopus salad (I did not eat or taste but could smell, unfortunately), steak tartar (I did not eat, taste or even smell, thank god), crab pasta, chopped liver, curried lamb chops, curried chicken thighs, curried chicken breast, French ham, French bread, french fries. Some of it good, some great, some not so much, some REALLY not so much. 

I grimaced my way through about half a plate of fishy crab pasta before I gave up on it. The cute little pot of chopped liver was surprisingly liver-y, the accompanying pickles and beets helped there. I didn’t get a shot of the mixed appetizer plate in Camogli, Italy where we were with people we didn’t really know so taking out my phone and snapping pix seemed a little, I don’t know, Monaco-tourist-y, but I ate a piece of something that was so filthy-fishy I nearly threw it up on the table (sorry, Cindy). I didn’t feel at liberty to disgorge the offending mess onto the table as I’d have preferred, or bark JESUS H CHRIST THIS IS DISGUSTING (with my mouth full), at the very least, so I swallowed it regretfully. Gagging, I immediately drank water which in turn made my water glass smell like fish so that was good.

I have no idea why I don’t drink beer at home. I love it on vacation. 

We had lunch in Vence (a place that in people’s minds takes a back seat to St Paul de Vence, a showier, touristier place that Rick Steves, I am sure, adores, but Vence is a vastly superior experience in my opinion). The curried lamb chops I had at some little place there were just sublime, even the RIMFC Police who has many opinions, not to mention rules and regulations about curry liked them We had to wander around for a good half hour until anyone was ready to serve lunch. (These people eat soooo late). Somehow I seem to have eaten a lot of curry. Curry is popular in France, and India, as it turns out.

I don’t know why the tomatoes here are mostly not all that good you’d think the weather in the south of France, Italy and Spain would offer them pretty much year ’round good tomatoes. But, well, if the tomatoes aren’t that good, the ham is sensational, the bread, well, the bread of the French, there is nothing like it. On Earth. I managed to have eaten a lot of it in France. And butter.

I also tried to stretch my fish boundaries by ordering fish and fish-related things. The crab pasta, for instance, uh god save me. The “fish and chips” didn’t really count since it’s, well, a fish fry. With bad tartar sauce I have to say. But the waitress and chef were adorable. The monkfish was excellent. There was veal with tuna sauce, vitello tonnato, that was great but then it was mostly about the veal and I like tuna already. The Food Control Police who already has a broader tolerance of things fishy took a break from fish early on after the octopus salad nightmare. (He hid a lot of it under the lemon. A trick I learned around the age of 9 from the Gradys, that, and scattering food on the plate, but that’s another story). In Nice he gamely ate an anchovy that came on a platter of grilled peppers and claimed to have enjoyed it. But I noticed that he ate the one and moved the others discreetly off to the side. Still it was an act of bravery.

French breakfast  : )                                           Octopus salad  : (

Chopped liver  : /                                             Beer at lunch  : )

            Salade roquefort croustillantes                          Curried lamb chops  : )                  

      Disgusting crab pasta  : (   : (                         French ham and bread  : )   : )

     Gnocchi in Italy                                           Lame-ass tomatoes

Groovy deep-fried appetizers                                    Gazpacho  : )          

              “Fish and chips”                         “Steack hachee”  steak tartar, oh dear.

Peppers and anchovies, and garlic                         Boeuf en daube  : )            

          Lotte—monkfish                                                    Entrecote              

    Breakfast on the balcony                                       Cocktail hour             

 Curried chicken                                          Beer at lunch


Breakfast…buttered toast!!

Breakfast one morning, asparagus with green salsa and mayonnaise

      Apple tart…cute but…meh                      Our last cocktail hour and a half   

Get out the straight jacket

Third time’s not the charm. French bread again. This time I used regular flour not the $475 a pound flour and it was a vast improvement. But it was a vast improvement when I baked the loaves after 24 hours. When I baked the second batch after 48 hours the crust was not crunchy. It was pretty and it tasted fine but lacked that French baguette crust.

The problem with French bread making is the mysterious nature of it all. Slight variations in amounts, ingredients, temperatures, what socks I have on. It could drive me crazy. Crazier, I mean.