Gentleman's Portion

A good helping of life, love and whisky

THE BREAD AND BUTTER OF BAKING

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A slice of heaven

A slice of heaven

Diane noticed my hint in a previous post (December 8, 2012) and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking 50th Anniversary Edition showed up under the Christmas tree. What a wonderful surprise. I’ve not read any of Julia’s stuff until recently. I suppose my opinion was coloured by the great Saturday Night Live sketch where Dan Aykroyd, doing an uncanny imitation of Julia, cuts himself mortally.  Just before he loses consciousness he calls: “Save the liver!” According to Bob Spitz in his August 2012 biography Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, an excellent read which I’ve just finished, she really enjoyed the Aykroyd sketch.

Certainly she seems to have had a wicked sense of humour, as evidenced by this story from Spitz’s book, which is worth repeating (I’m writing from memory as the book is back at the library). Late in her career, Julia is working with a new and stuffy lady producer. Julia decided to have some fun in the studio: “Hello, I’m Julia Child and today I’m making c*ck monsieur.” “OK, cut, let’s do another take,” comes over the studio intercom from the producer. “Julia, it’s croque monsieur.” “Sorry, I thought that’s what I said. Let’s do it again,” replies the star. She makes the same deliberate mistake on take two and by now the crew are in on the gag and are falling around trying to hold back their laughter. Again she protests she didn’t know what she’d said. She insists the producer tell her exactly what word she’d used. Over the studio speakers comes the frustrated producer’s voice: “Julia, you said c*ck.” And the whole studio collapses in hysterical laughter, except Julia who keeps a straight face and is the picture of innocence.

Julia talks about bread in Volume Two of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I’ve yet to receive. Spitz, in the biography, tells of Paul Child attempting to master the art of baking French bread using US flour and an American electric kitchen, almost an impossibility. Paul uses nearly 300 lb of flour before he gets something half decent. I don’t have that sort of dedication.

However, I did trot down to the Loblaws Cooking School on Queen’s Quay in Toronto when I heard chef Paul Bambrick (see my blog of January 25, 2013) was holding a bread making course.

BASIC WHITE BREAD (from Paula Bambrick)

Ingredients
2 tbsp live yeast
1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 egg
1/2 cup melted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups warm water
8 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour

Weapons
1 small bowl
1 large mixing bowl
Pastry spatula
Measuring spoons and cups
2 loaf pans, 9 in by 5 in

Even better with butter and strawberry jam

Even better with butter and strawberry jam

Preparation and cooking
1. Prepare the yeast. In a small bowl put 1/2 cup warm water, dissolve in sugar and then sprinkle on yeast and stir to mix. Set aside to “proof” for 5 to 10 min, or until the mixture foams.
2. In the large bowl, add egg, butter, salt, sugar and 2 cups warm water. Mix well. Add the proofed yeast and mix again. Add half the flour and beat well until it is lump free. Add most of the remaining flour and beat well. Add just enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. To do this take the ball, flatten it, then pull the top half over the bottom half and knead well, rotate the dough 1/4 turn and repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Grease the bowl with butter or Pam spray, add the ball of dough, cover with a cloth and set aside in a warm place, until the dough has doubled in size, or about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
5. Punch the dough down (this is fun!), separate into two and push into the two well greased loaf pans. Or if you are making rolls, shape them now and put them on a well greased baking sheet,  spaced out. Cover again and set aside to rise until the volume has doubled again, or about 45 min to 1 hour.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Bake the loaves until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.
7. Remove from pan and set to cool on a wire rack.

OPTION: Substitute honey for the sugar and up to 6 cups whole wheat flour for the bread flour.

OPTION: Add 2 to 3 tbsp dried herbs to the flour before mixing.

PS: Please leave a comment, if you found something useful or interesting in this recipe. Or please add your own variations for others to share.

Author: Nigel

Freelance director and writer

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