French Baguettes

My guy, Paul, is a lover of bread. In particular, he loves a good baguette. Through him, I have been initiated into a life of baguette enthusiasm.  A good baguette is dark and crusty on the outside, fluffy and light on the inside. That seems simple enough, most baguettes should fit that description vaguely, but there is a scale within that description. In France we found that the artisanal handmade loaves are usually best and everything else is, well, not best.

In France, bakeries prepare baguettes and other breads daily, usually preparing a morning batch and an evening batch in order to provide the freshest loaves all day long. In order to stock the shelves with the freshest breads when the shop opens at 6a, Boulanger William Courderot begins his day at 1am. When we arrived to meet him at 5am, he was well into his daily routine. Each day, Courderot rolls out 600 traditional baguettes and each day they fly off the shelf.

There are many types of baguettes. The hand rolled ones are usually called tradition or l’ancienne, they are made in the old French way. You can literally taste the love with which they are made. This is why I advise you to steer clear of the standard machine made baguettes! They are usually lighter in color, less crispy. They are longer and more uniform, there is no trace of flour on the finished crust, and they are maybe 10 cents cheaper. I’m not sure why anybody buys them.

In the states, it’s getting more and more possible to find quality bread but it’s still always fun to see what you can do yourself. When we were in France, I made a pact to learn how to make a good baguette by baking them daily. But after a couple of sad attempts, I gave in to the fact that everywhere I looked I saw perfect baguettes for €1 or less. I was in the land of incredible baguettes and I wasn’t about to waste time and empty calories on bad ones! It takes a lot of patience to come up with a method that works for you in your setting. It’s tough for a recipe to account for the moisture or dryness of the air in your environment. Consumer ovens just don’t get as hot as industrial ones. But have no fear, Julia Child is here! Julia offers a thorough recipe with helpful pictures in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, and you can see her recipe sans photos here.

One useful tip I can offer to fresh bread lovers: the best way to keep baguettes and other breads fresh and tasty is to wrap them in aluminum foil and freeze. If you have a big country loaf, cut it into smaller more manageable meal-size pieces and wrap each piece separately. When you want to eat some bread, place it in the oven or toaster oven at 350°F for about 10-15 minutes. When you can easily squeeze the baguette in your hand (with a glove of course), remove the foil, turn off the oven and put the bread back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so to crisp it up. Enjoy!

William Courderot’s French Baguette

Ingredients

1 kg farine / ~7 cups flour

650 g eau / ~3 cups water

20 g sel / ~3.5 tsp salt

20 g levure / ~5 tsp yeast

Method

Mix all ingredients in kitchenaid or cuisinart mixer until smooth. Let rest for an hour and a half.

Flour prep area and separate dough into three equal pieces. Generously flour a linen cloth. Gently fold the dough over itself and roll while pushing the dough outwards until it becomes a long snake. Notice how little Courderot handles the dough as he forms it into baguettes. Don’t handle the dough more than you have to. Place the baguettes on your floured linen cloth, cradling each loaf in fabric so they don’t touch one another. Leave to rest for one hour.

Preheat oven to 550°F (or as high as your oven will go).

Use a new razor blade or very sharp knife to score the bread with evenly distributed diagonal marks, about 4-5 scores per loaf. Fill a cast iron pan with ice water and place it on the bottom rack of your oven. This helps keep a good amount of moisture in the oven while the bread bakes. Place the baguettes in the oven for 20-30minutes or until they are crusty and brown. When they’re done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes or so before you break bread.

Tarte á la Tomate

Let me introduce to you my mother in law, Mrs. Brigitte Helzer, who is a ninja in the kitchen. In her home, it’s hard not to be aware of what she’s preparing because it always smells incredible. When Mama B gets in the zone, the flavors of France come alive in her kitchen. Brigitte was born in Ribeauville, a small village in Alsace, France. She moved to the US at age 7 but grew up in a culturally French home. She developed a love of French cuisine and in turn, she inspired a love of French food in her two boys, Paul and Johnny. And since I married into Helzer family, I have been introduced to a whole new culinary world too.

Meals at the Helzer’s are notorious among friends for good reason. They are completely and deliciously insane. Brigitte does most of the preparations; and John chooses wine(s) from his cellar to best compliment the meal. Making it to the end of one of these meals without passing out is a feat. It’s like running a marathon except at the end you realize you haven’t exercised at all and you’re a little more rotund. To give you an idea: a meal at the Helzer’s might begin with an appetizer accompanied by an aperitif, perhaps Tarte á la Tomate and a glass of a Burgundy. Shortly thereafter, dinner might be scalloped veal with lemon sauce, rice, braised endives and salad, served with an Italian Barbera d’Asti. Then the infamous cheese course (that is served ‘only when the kids are home’), sometimes 10+ cheeses, including a variety of cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, domestic and imported, served with a Bordeaux, and a roquefort cheese, with which Port wine is optional. All of this followed of course by dessert. John or Brigitte might prepare a seasonal fruit tarte, or why not a variety of individual portioned tartes? Eau de Vie, a genre of French digestifs, emerge from the cupboard. Kirsch, Quetsch and Poire Williams, are among favorites in the Helzer household. At this point, you struggle to roll a slightly rounder version of yourself away from the table to start clean up. We literally ate all of this the day we recorded this recipe.

I admire Brigitte’s facility with cooking. I realize her know-how came over time so there is hope for me yet! What I have gleaned is that Brigitte has learned to listen to her culinary gut feelings. She magically knows when things have been cooked to perfection. When I ask her how she knows, she’s vague and nonchalant. It’s killer! All I can do is remind myself that the moral of the story is keep on studying recipes and cooking by heart and if I’m lucky, then in time my kitchen intuition might develop into something like hers.

Tarte á la Tomate Recipe

Savory Dough Ingredients (this dough can be used for any savory pie or tart):

2 cups flour

¼ tsp salt

1½ stick unsalted butter

1/3 cup ice water (may need a little more if the air is really dry)

Tarte ingredients:

4 tomatoes

3 tbsp Dijon mustard (contrary to what’s shown in the video)

1 cup grated cheese (emmental, gruyere and parmesan)

1 tsp fresh chopped oregano

1 tbsp olive oil

fleur de sel

Method:

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Prepare the dough. Combine flour, salt and butter in cuisinart or bowl. Add ice water slowly while pulsing in cuisinart until it gets clumpy. Gather the dough together, being careful not to over handle it (if overworked it won’t be light and flaky). Cover in saran wrap and if you have the time, let it rest in the fridge for 20-30min (or longer if you want to prepare the dough ahead of time, allowing it to return to room temp before working with it). Prick a few holes in the dough to prevent it from puffing up. Cook it for about 10 min at 450°F or until it begins to brown.

Spread mustard onto the dough. Brigitte prefers the dish with dijon. She feels the grainy mustard can overwhelm the dish. But I like it both ways. Layer half of the combination of gruyere, emmental and parmesan cheeses. Then layer your sliced tomatoes and top with another layer of cheese. Cook it for about 20 min at 450°F. The crust needs to be “golden to brown” and the cheese should be nice and melted and almost browned and crusty.

Sprinkle the finished tarte with fleur de sel, fresh oregano, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve warm or cold.

Let us know how it goes!

Music: Margie by Billy Banks and His Rhythmakers

*This recipe was featured in the FrenchEntrée.com Gastrozone to celebrate 100 issues of FrenchEntrée magazine

Parmentier de Joue de Boeuf

Parmentier de Joue de Boeuf is French favorite, simple to prepare as well as wonderfully rich and delicious. I am a big fan of braising things, in wine, bouillon, tomatoes, or a combination. Meats and veggies become mouth wateringly tender and rich with flavor. So I was excited to learn that Chef Gilles Beauvais at Bouchon “Le Grévy” wanted to prepare this braised beef dish with us.

Bouchon “Le Grévy” is a bistro in Dole, Jura where Beauvais serves traditional French dishes with a little twist. In this dish, he braises beef jowl. I realize that in the states, beef jowl isn’t a particularly common ingredient. In this recipe, the chef suggests you can use beef ribs. I think any good braising meat will do the trick. The meat will become very very tender and easily shredded. To form a small pie, you might use a disposable cup, cutting out the bottom so it’s just a ring. The broiler in a toaster oven is a good way to melt the cheese on top.

Et voila, bon appétit!

Merci beaucoup, Chef Gilles! Et merci pour l’introduction, Francoise! En plus, merci Charlie Hunter & Leon Parker for The Last Time from the album Duo.

A little backstory:

In early May, Paul and I made our way to Choisey, France, where our friend Micaela’s friend Louis has family. Not only does Louis have family here but Louis’ family has a house. More than a house, a chateau. Louis’ family has Chateau de Parthey, where Louis’ grandmother, Madame Maitre de Tarragon, age 98, resides.

Here, we are resting our weary heads for some time, taking care of Madame Maitre every Saturday-Monday morning. Monday through Friday, we are free as birds, with a car too! But how would we fill our time?, we wondered. Luckily, along with a massive home, we were introduced to Francoise, a friend of Madame Maitre, who became immediately like an agent for us and for Cooking by Heart.

Upon learning that we wanted to make videos about food, Francoise went right to work, calling her contacts and arranging meetings. Within a week she had us meeting with two local chefs and a baker. One of these meetings was with Chef Gilles Beauvais.

Stay tuned for a few more authentic French recipes!

Chapati (North Indian Flat Bread)

It was a treat to spend the day with Chitra and her dad while we shot this piece and learned from a master. Chitra’s father, Vishwani, shares his method of making chapati, also known as roti, a flat bread most commonly prepared in northern India. Vishwani grew up in Allahabad, one of India’s oldest cities, where he learned to prepare chapatis by watching his mother and then as time went on, by refining his own technique. On the shoot, Vishwani told us about leaving home for college, which is when he first began making chapati. Later, when he met his wife, Prathima, he continued to make chapati. Prathima is from south India, where rice is more commonly served as a staple. To this day, Vishwani remains the primary chapati-maker of the house. And since Vishwani and Prathima make chapatis weekly, they’ve become masters. It seems like making any kind of bread dough takes some experimentation to get it right.

When I asked Vishwani about the importance of passing down the tradition, I was excited by his response. He pointed out that traditions are not a one way street. They aren’t blindly passed on and can’t be forced onto the next generation, but rather they are actively accepted, practiced and kept alive by the younger generation. It’s refreshing to hear a different perspective and to consider that we are not just vessels but we are active participants in creating new traditions and keeping old traditions alive. Vishwani can teach what he knows, but it’s up to Chitra to keep it going, if she so chooses. As he tells Chitra, he teaches procedure, technique is what you figure out on your own.

Vishwani and Prathima reside in Alabama, where they both work in the Computer and Electrical Engineering Department at Auburn University.

Chapati

Ingredients (makes 6 rotis)
1 cup of flour
~1/2 cup lukewarm water
extra flour for rolling

Method
Sift the flour into a bowl and slowly add water while kneading until you get to a dough that is soft, smooth and pliable. The longer you knead the dough the better but 5 minutes of heavy kneading will do.

Take the dough ball and cover with a damp cloth for a minimum of 30 minutes (you can also make the dough and put in your fridge for making another day).

Divide the dough into 6 dough balls or loee and roll them in flour.

Flatten each each dough ball with your palm and roll out to a 6 inch diameter, using extra flour so it does not stick.

Heat an iron skillet on medium heat. When it is hot (water drops should sizzle immediately), place roti on.

Let it cook and when you start to see bubbles form in many places, flip it over and cook until the other side does the same.

Over a medium flame, with flat tongs or chimta place the roti until it blows up or browns on both sides. (If you are cooking on an electric stove, you can press the roti in different places with a cloth to make it blow up a bit right on the skillet)

With the tongs, hit the roti against a surface to shake off any excess flour.

Butter one side with ghee and place in an airtight container lined with paper towel.

Music: Boss City by Wes Montgomery; Evelyn by Dabrye; Pacific Theme by Broken Social Scene; Cause=Time by Broken Social Scene; Little Chin by Tommy Guererro

Vishwani and Chitra, thank you for sharing. Franny & John, Thank you for letting us take over your apt for the day! Sintalentos, thank you for your musical consultation. Michael Legume, thanks for the audio equip. Paul, you’re the best.