Thursday, February 03, 2011

First Attempt: French Bread

For Christmas in 2009 Butcher Son bought me Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, a book I had been wanting. But with kitchen reconstruction, all my cookbooks were consigned to a cabinet in the garage for 5 months. Once the kitchen was complete, I had no display piece for my collection and they remain relegated to the far regions of our home, blocked by our treadmill and various other household items. Periodically I clear a path, open the cabinet doors and look longingly at them. I touch their spines, pull one or two out, and remember fondly recipes I have tested out of them. Once and a while I get a bug up my butt to use one of them, which was the case this week.

My brother, who shares my love of the kitchen, sent me a recipe for last week for La Daube de Boeuf with Press Wine. His missive, short and sweet, said, “From the Wine Spectator – sounds excellent (uses lardons!). Would go great with Bordeaux.” (He is also a oenophile.) So we both decided to make it for Sunday dinner. We chose a marbled stew meat over the hard-to-find beef cheeks and he traveled over to Bristol Farms to get pork belly, while I was fortunate to have three pounds of it curing in my fridge (courtesy of Butcher Son). We marinated our meat for 24 hours in red wine, chopped our veggies, and cooked away, 380 miles apart.

I got to thinking that some fresh French bread would go great with stew, and since my mother had generously offered to bring dessert, I had some extra time to make it. So I grabbed that aforementioned Artisan Breads Every Day, and went straight to the French bread recipes. To my disappointment, the dough needs to be started 24 hours prior, something that I should have done while marinating my meat in a whole bottle of wine. But hubby went out and got me the requisite flour and yeast, and I scoured around for an alternate recipe.

I found just such a recipe on a post on Steamy Kitchen blog. Titled, “Baking the Perfect Loaf of French Bread,” it was a recipe I could accomplish by dinnertime. I followed the directions and in a jiffy had a two-loaf batch mixed, kneaded and ready to rise. So easy, I decided to make another batch, thinking that four loaves would be better than two, right?!? I left them alone to bubble and rise and then shaped them into long loaves. I placed them in baguette pans that I have had sitting in my baking cabinet for a decade, a gift from my grandmother who used to bake bread. The second rise was only 30 minutes and then came the baking.

I used my handy dandy Thermoworks digital oven thermometer, a holiday gift from Brilliant Daughter, which allows me to place a thin metal probe into whatever is baking and set a temperature timer. (Takes a lot of the guessing out of baking and worked wonderfully in this instance.) Within 20 minutes, I had four browned baguettes. I resisted the temptation to tear into one right away and set them to cool.

Taking them out of the pan, I noticed that the underside was not browned nor crisped, probably a function of the pan. I, personally, like a crisp crust all the way around, but the rest of the family steadfastly maintained that the softer crust was better. And given that two loaves disappeared along with the stew, I can’t argue with their preference. It was light, tasty and a great sopping utensil for the winey broth of the stew.

This recipe was easy and quick to make (excepting the rising time). I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is hesitant to tackle breads. I was somewhat disappointed overall with the results, however. It was more like the type of French bread you would buy at Safeway rather than a good French bakery. The interior was closer to a standard white bread than the airier French version. It would be great for hoagies or deli sandwiches (or banh mi), but not what I would use served with cheese or to make crostini. Which means that I am going to make the time to try Peter Reinhart’s version.

And la Daube de Boeuf? Both my brother and I decided that it was just okay, nothing spectacular. And that our own versions of stew were superior in taste and ease of cooking.

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