Le pain est la vie!!!! I love making bread! I don’t get a chance with my busy work schedule to bake as much as I would like, but when I get the opportunity, the first thing I want to make is homemade bread…French Bread to be precise! The other day I had a day where I was working from home. In between conference calls and other work, I managed to pop in the kitchen to make some bread.
Bread is an essential part of life and an integral part of culture. Without it, many would not live…because of it, many have perished. Rulers have literally been overthrown over access to bread. In 1788 and 1789, speculation in the movement, storage and sale of grains combined with adverse weather conditions led to a severe bread shortage throughout France. Prices for this staple increased beyond affordability, especially for the poor and peasant classes. While the rich had plenty of fine bread made from pure white flour, the poor either starved or subsisted on an inferior product made from poorly milled bran grains.
Mass starvation eventually provoked revolution. The storming of the Bastille was more a call for bread than it was an uprising to free enemies of the crown. The people cried out for bread and searched the bakeries to no avail. There was no bread.
Today, and for now, thankfully most of us have affordable access to the staples to make bread and what you can make in your own kitchen, even with the simplest recipe and the most humble ingredients will be far superior than anything you can buy in a plastic bag at the supermarket.
I prefer an informal style of bread making. This style is not your typical sourdough baguette or manufactured baguette, but the traditional bakery “flute” you get in most boulangeries in France; the bread of the everyday French person.
The bread is versatile; it can be toasted for jams and butters, cut into cubes for stuffing and croutons, broiled with vegetables, meats and cheeses to produce the delicious tartines (open faced sandwiches) that are so popular in cafes today.
I also like this bread because it doesn’t involve a lot of pre work. There is no starter to make and keep alive, there is no extra time proofing yeast. This recipe produces two large loaves. You can also freeze the loaves after molding into the bâtard.
TRADITIONAL FRENCH BREAD
5 1/2 to 6 cups of all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, and salt. Add 2 cups warm water, and beat with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook on low to medium speed for 30 seconds. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and add the remaining flour (cup by cup) until incorporated.
On a lightly floured surface, knead in enough flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Knead for about 8 to 10 minutes total. Shape into a ball. Place dough in a greased bowl, and turn once. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
Punch dough down, and divide in half. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each half into a 15 x 10 inch rectangle. Roll up, starting from a long side. Moisten edge with water and seal. Taper ends.
Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Place loaves, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly beat the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water, and brush on. Cover with a damp cloth. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Let rise until nearly doubled, 35 to 40 minutes.
With a very sharp knife, make 3 or 4 diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep across top of each loaf. Bake for 20 minutes. Brush again with egg white mixture. Bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until bread tests done. If necessary, cover loosely with foil to prevent over browning. Remove from baking sheet, and cool on a wire rack.
On your next cold winter’s day, bake some delicious bread….it will certainly warm your spirit and your home!