Winter returned to the grey cottage over the weekend. We had snow, sleet, freezing rain and then a gusty freezing polar vortex swept in to freeze everything rock solid. One hears the cold crunch of the ice on the road as the neighbors head out to work. The wind makes the icy coating of the branches clatter, when it gusts around the house corners. It's colder than a witch's left hind roopy-too, as my Dad liked to say!
Yesterday, the fires were roaring all day and still the house was drafty and chill. These kinds of days require one to keep moving and focus on activities that bring more warmth to the house. I baked bread and made a double batch of King Ranch Casserole so we could share a pan with a friend. We did laundry so that the warmth of the dryer could help as another small heat source. We did everything that we would never consider doing during July. Oh man ... it's definitely NOT July!
My project of making a basic Pain Ordinaire or French Bread was good therapy, as it kept me by the kitchen woodstove most of the afternoon. In between, I read up on a few nice horseradish mayo recipes. You see, we have leftover beef tenderloin roast from the New Years Day Beef Wellington dinner. So one of the loaves will be the base for roast beef sandwiches with au jus and horseradish mayo dipping sauces. I'm drooling just thinking about those little sandwiches!
These loaves are fuller and shorter than a conventional baguette, as my cute little country kitchen wall oven won't bake a long baguette. In my dreams, SB is planning a wood-fired brick oven that he will build right outside the back door on the terrace. A girl can dream, right? Until the dream comes true, my Pain Ordinaire is pudgy and short and perfect for the sandwiches and bruschetta that I have planned.
All hail the sacrificial loaf!
Making French bread is a different experience from my usual breadmaking. The dough rises slowly (a full two hours) and in a cool place. It gets a full second rise ( another hour and a half) before forming the little baguettes. And then, it rises a third time (another 45 minutes) before it gets the egg wash that gives it that glorious golden color and shine. The oven gets misted a few times during the baking to ensure a hard crunchy crust. It is fussed with, where most of the other breads that I make are mixed and kneaded, given a rise in a warm spot, formed into loaves and left to rise to their final shapes during that second rise, and tossed into the hot oven to finish off. It's really well worth the effort though.
Before we get to those sandwiches and bruschetta, though ... it's time for toast! We were gifted a small jar of chestnut jam for Christmas. That Sprout Sara was a busy kitchen elf! So the first slices of my Pain Ordinaire are getting a small dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of her chestnut jam! Mmmmmm! A revelation!
Crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. You just can't beat a good loaf a French bread. OR luxe spreads for it!
Pain Ordinaire - French Bread Baguettes
a Beth Hensperger recipe from The Bread Bible
Makes three long baguettes or three round boules
2 c. warm (109° F) water
1 ½ tbsp. active dry yeast grains
1 tbsp. sugar
3 c. strong bread flour
1 tbsp. salt
About 3 c. all purpose flour
Cornmeal for sprinkling on the baking sheets
1 large egg, beaten with 2 tsp. water, for glazing
A spritzer bottle of water for building humidity in the hot oven
A large baking sheet or a bread stone
Making the Bread:
- Whisk together the warm water, yeast, and sugar in a deep bread bowl and let it rest for ten minutes or until it foams up nicely.
- Mix the bread flour and salt together in a large 4-cup measuring cup.
- When the yeast has foamed nicely, add 2 c. of the bread flour/salt mix and beatto make a stringy batter. Add the rest of the bread flour in ½ cup measures, beating well between each addition.
- Moving to the all purpose flour, do the same. Add ½ cup at a time and mix to incorporate. As the dough forms and firms up, you may turn the dough and scraps that cling to the bowl’s sides onto a kneading surface and change over to mixing with your hands.
- By the time you have added 2 ½ cups of the all purpose flour, you will be kneading. Knead in only about 2 tbsp. of the rest of the flour at a time and knead for about 5 minutes or until the dough is rounded nicely and is ‘smooth and springy’.
- Turn the dough ball into a lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp towel. Set in a cool place to rise for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled.
- Gently press the dough down, turn it in the bowl, cover it with the towel and let it rise a second time for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Gently press the dough down and divide it in three equal balls. Shape the dough to your preference – baguettes or boules.
- Sprinkle some cornmeal onto a baking sheet and place the bread shapes over the cornmeal. Cover loosely and let rise for 45 minutes.
- A half hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F and place a bread stone on the middle rack.
- Just before baking, make three or four diagonal slashes in the loaves (no more than ¼ inch deep) and brush the loaves all over with the egg wash.
- Place the risen loaves directly on the stone or lay the baking sheet on the stone.
- Quickly, spritz the area under the rack with the water to create a burst of steam and close the oven door. Lower the oven temperature to 400°F and bake the bread for about 40 minutes or until the bread is beautifully golden and sounds hollow when rapped. You can repeat the water spritz once or twice during the baking time to keep the humidity up in the oven chamber.
- Transfer the baked loaves to a cooling rack or have them warm from the oven.
- Wrap closely when cooled and store in the freezer, if you don’t plan to eat them pretty quickly.