Sunday, January 9, 2011

Home Is Where the Bread Is

Home, for me, has always had an intricate connection to food. So when a sudden chain of events transported me away from the Midwest, away from the Michigan woods, away from my family and everything familiar,  to Washington, D.C. amidst a sea of new faces and places, the urge to cook set in immediately.

At almost every gathering of friends or family, at every holiday meal, acting as indispensable support to the main dish, my mom's French Bread played an iconic role. Mom has baked countless loaves of French Bread over the years. In many ways, the bread encapsulates everything I love and know. And so, at a moment when I needed to hold on to old ties and create new ones, when I needed to both feel the connection to home and forge my own way, I turned to French Bread.

Following my mom's recipe, I proofed the yeast. I mixed the flour, sugar, and salt. By hand, I kneaded the stiff dusty mixture into soft malleable dough. I held my breath while I waited for it to rise, hoping I hadn't killed the yeast. Finally, I slid the two loaves into the oven.

A short time later, my roommate and I cut into the soft warm bread. As I quietly savored the familiar taste, a feeling of total satisfaction washed over me. In that warm bread, I knew I held onto a little piece of home.

French Bread
2 1/2 cups warm (almost hot) water
2 tbl. yeast
2 tbl. melted butter
2 tbl. sugar (plus an extra sprinkle to proof yeast)
1 tbl. salt
7 1/2 cups flour

To 1 cup of very warm water, add two tbl. of yeast. Sprinkle a little sugar on top and stir. Allow yeast to proof. (It will foam and expand to 1 1/2 -2 cups.) Grease a bowl with butter. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in bowl. Combine melted butter and 1 1/2 cups water. Add to flour mixture. Mix. Add proofed yeast. Mix until doughy. 

Knead (try to avoid tearing the dough....rather, stretch the dough with the palms of your hands; then turn the dough 90 degrees, flip over, fold, and stretch again) on hard, non-porous surface (a granite counter-top works well) for 15 -20 minutes. Dough should become softer and more malleable as you knead.

Let the dough rise in a covered bowl in a warm place for 45 minutes. Separate the dough into two equal parts. Gently shape the dough into smooth elongated loaves. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 420 degrees for 25 minutes.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I was going to ask for this recipe, so I am SO glad that you posted it!

suki said...

If I have enough flour at home tonight, I'm going to give this a shot.

Emily said...

Suki, do! It's so gratifying. You could probably halve the recipe.

suki @ [Super Duper Fantastic] said...

Turned out wonderfully even though I had slightly different proportions after using 1/3 wheat because I ran out of white flour! :)

Thanks for the inspiration!

Emily said...

I''m so glad it came out! It feels so cool to be able to just mess around with flour and produce that whole *thing* of food.:-D

Francesca Marie said...

I want to try this...Do you use instant yeast?

Emily said...

Francesca Marie,

No, I don't...I use regular yeast. You should be able to find it a natural food store (sometimes you can even purchase it from places like Costco in bulk). Then I proof it, combining 1/2 cup very warm water with each tbl yeast. I sprinkle a bit of sugar on top and stir, then I let it sit. It should almost double in size in a matter of 10-15 minutes. Good luck!