Monday night, Alex and I attended a bris. (It’s okay, I’m giving you time to Google it.) The mohel (go, I’ll wait right here) had a bit of a stand-up comedy act going on — “It’s okay, folks, there’s still five minutes to tip-off!” — as did the caterers — “Pigs in blankets? Is this really necessary?” “I can’t believe you’re eating a pickle, Debbie!” — all which did nothing to alleviate the excruciatingly uncomfortable excuse to see, well, just the tiniest, cutest little man on earth who has quickly shed that, well you know, kind of underbaked looked infants have when they’ve just come out.
For a guy pretty much having the worst day in his life so far, he was a champ. Twenty minutes later, wrapped snugly in a soft blanket – this impossibly tiny burrito – his mother tickled the underside of his chin while he slept in her lap. Later, we went with a few others to the tasty Sofrito with two couples that seem to want a baby very soon and another that already has two (enthralling Alex with stories of their three-year-old who implores visitors to “eat his butt”).
“I’m taking a bread baking class on Sundays,” I told the mother. “It’s surprisingly exhausting,” I continued until I realized how ridiculous this must sound to someone who probably hasn’t had a non-child leisure time activity in over three years.
“Seriously?” the dad told me, “I have no idea what we used to do before we had kids. What did we do with all of that free time? We totally squandered it doing nothing! If I could go back, I would just do a million things. Or, sleep for days, yeah definitely that.”
And it’s funny because it’s one of the exact reasons I want to take this bread-baking class right now. Also, make impossibly complicated, not exactly necessary things, like croissants and wedding cakes. I don’t think anything exactly saves you from wishing you’d done more while you had that extra time to, but I think the idea hanging over my head that I won’t always have this absolute freedom we do now makes me want to get a whole lot more stuff in. I just need to work on that whole sleep part, next.
This Sunday, we made showy, pretty exciting free-form breads. The first, a fougasse, which totally sounds like a name you’d call someone who cut you off in traffic, involved us frying up 8 oz. of bacon at 10 in the morning and kneading the drippings into the dough, so you know it’s awesome. (I understand this isn’t entirely traditional for this provincial bread, but I dare you to complain.) The shape is one of the coolest parts.
Second, we made an Italian Bread Ring. I minced some fresh rosemary into mine and coated it with sesame seeds. Aside from getting stale quickly, this bread was one of my favorites to snack on Sunday afternoon. This one, too, has a show-off shape and like my beloved bundt, it makes it so much easier to slice.
Finally, we made country loaves, a total winner. This is one of those breads I’ve always wanted to make because it’s so basic, you can replace a lot of the flour with whole wheat and it’s still tender, and the shapes you can make it into — rolls, leafy knots — are almost unlimited. Also, it’s delicious.
All my prattling on yet again about babies and other doughy delights has left me with little room to impart more bread-making tips, so I’ll save them for next week’s final class.
Adapted from Nick Malgieri at The Institute of Culinary Education
Fougasse, or ladder bread, is typical in southern France. Herbes de Provence include marjoram, oregano, thyme, tarragon and savory. It is almost possible to purchase a ready-mixed version containing lavender and fennel, giving the bread an almost perfumed quality.
2 envelopes yeast
1/2 cup warm water at 110°F
8 ounces bacon
2 cups water, divided
1 tablespoon herbes de provence
4 3/4 – 5 3/4 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
1. Whisk yeast into 1/2 cup warm water and set aside.
2. Chop bacon and saute until lightly browned. Do not overcook. Remove bacon, place on absorbent paper and blot off grease. Reserve and refrigerate 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat. (Butter can be used as a replacement if your, um, lard quantity comes up short.)
3. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, remove from heat and add herbs. Steep 15 minutes and add 1 cup cold water.
4. Combine flours and rub in solidified bacon fat until completely incorporated.
5. Make a well with the flour and add salt, herb/water mixture and yeast/water mixture. Form a dough and knead smooth.
6. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and ferment until doubled. Deflate and knead in bacon. Cover dough and let rest 10 minutes.
7. Divide into 3 or 4 pieces. Place the first piece of dough in a lightly floured work surface and gently press and stretch it into a slightly elongated half-oval that measures about 8 inches across at the base. Transfer it to a parchment lined pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
8. Use a pizza wheel to cut 2 slashes down the center of the half-oval, and 3 or 4 diagonal slashes on either side of the center slashes.
9. Cover the fougasse with a towel a repeat with the remaining dough.
10. Let the fougasses rest for about 10 minutes, and then gently pull in both directions to make the fougasse a couple inches wider and longer, opening up the slashes. Proof 100%.
11. Bake at 450°F with steam for 20 to 30 minutes.
Rustic White Bread
Adapted from Nick Malgieri at The Institute of Culinary Education
From Nick: This bread reminds me of the rough country bread found throughout France and Italy. I like to shape it into a thick baguette (long loaf) to get the most crust. I also sprinkle the loaves heavily with flour after they are formed – this keeps them from crusting during the rising and also gives the baked loves an appetizing appearance.
2 cups warm tap water, about 110 degrees
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
5 1/4 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup flour for dusting the loaves
Cornmeal for the pans
2 small cookie sheets or a large (at least 11×17-inch) jelly roll pan
1. To make the dough, in a 3-quart mixing bowl place water and sprinkle yeast on surface, allowing it to stand for two minutes before whisking. Add the smaller amount of flour and salt stiffing with a rubber spatula until it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth, adding more flour if dough is too soft.
2. To mix the dough in the food processor, place the smaller amount of flour and salt in work bowl fitted with metal blade, adding water and yeast. Pulse repeatedly until dough forms a ball (if dough will not form a ball, add remaining flour a tablespoon at a time, and pulse until ball forms. Let dough rest 5 minutes, then let machine run continuously for 20 seconds.
3. To mix dough in a heavy-duty mixer, place smaller amount of flour and salt in bowl of mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add water and yeast and mix on low speed to form a smooth, elastic and slightly sticky dough, about 5 minutes. Incorporate the remaining flour a tablespoon at time if the dough is too soft.
4. Place dough in an oiled bowl (you may need to use a scraper) and turn dough over so top is oiled. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise at room temperature until doubled. If you wish to interrupt the process, let the dough begin to rise, then punch it down, cover it tightly and refrigerate. When you are ready to proceed, bring back to room temperature until it begins rising again.
5. To shape loaves, scrape risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and press it to deflate it. Divide dough in half and shape one piece at a time. Press dough into a square, then roll it up tightly. Rotate cylinder of dough 90 degrees and roll up again from short end. Arrange dough seam side down, cover with plastic or a towel and let it rest of 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining piece of dough.
6. Dust pan with cornmeal. Roll each piece of dough under palms of your hands to elongate it. Work from middle of loaf outward, pointing the ends slightly. Place loaves seam side down on cookie sheets and dust each loaf heavily with flour, using about 1/3 cup in all. Cover with plastic or a towel and allow to rise until doubled.
7. About 30 minutes before you intend to bake the loaves, preheat oven to 500 degrees and set racks at the middle and lowest levels. Set a pan on the lowest rack to absorb some of the excess bottom heat and keep the bottom of the loaves from burning.
8. Holding a razor blade or the point of a very sharp knife at a 30-degree angle to the top of each loaf, make 3 to 4 diagonal slashes in each loaf. Immediately place loaves in oven and lower temperature 450 degrees.
9. After loaves have baked for 20 minutes and are completely risen, lower temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking about 20 to 30 minutes longer, until bread reaches an internal temperature of about 220 degrees. Remove loaves from oven and cool on a rack.