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.

Au Cœur du Jura

Au Cœur du Jura directly translates to “at the heart of Jura,” which is exactly what this cheese shop has become for us. More importantly, we have become fans of owner, Ema, at Au Cœur du Jura. Her shop is a small but well stocked crémerie and fromagerie, located in the covered market in the small city of Dole. While spending the past couple of months here in Jura, in eastern France, we’ve fallen in love with a few fantastic locally celebrated and locally produced fromages.

Comté is the most celebrated and well-known of all Jura cheeses. Jura is, afterall, a part of the Franche-Comté. It’s a firm cheese. As comté ages, it becomes stronger, more salty, sharper. You can buy it as young as 4 months old, up to 2 years old. Ema cut into a well-aged round for us. Together, we tasted small pieces of the fresh round, she smiled “it sings, doesn’t it?”

Morbier is another Jura cheese that we’ve come to relish. From the look of it, you might think it’s a real stinky cheese, but the blue line through it has nothing to do with mold. Back in the day, after they made comté, they’d take the leftover curds and use ash to keep the curds overnight until they’d add more milk. The layer of ash is what gives the cheese it’s distinctive blue line. Ash is still used now, but as an aesthetic choice, based on the old tradition. It’s a creamy semi-soft cheese that is rich and creamy with a touch of sourness or bitterness at the end.

There are many many types of tomme, made with goat milk, sheep milk and of course cow milk. The tomme unique to this area is simply called Tomme du Jura and it is a cow milk cheese. (One thing I learned in buying cheese, is unless otherwise marked, all cheeses are made with cow milk.) After making heavier, creamy cheeses, the leftover skim milk was historically used to make tomme. The result is a light, smooth cheese. It’s flavor is mild and milky, with hints of brine. In terms of texture, it’s not as hard as comté, not as soft as morbier. Tommes are fun to try because they are always different. It seems like everybody makes or sells a version of tomme around here.

So if you make your way to Dole, please pop into the covered market and say hi to Ema. (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday before noon to see the place really bustling.)

Thank you, Ema, for being so friendly to us from day one and for supplying us with such fantastic fromage. You kept us coming back for more and we hope to see you again.

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!

Gnocchi & Spinach Sauce

Folks. I am very happy about this piece. It’s very different than Cooking by Heart videos we’ve made in the past and I think you’ll enjoy it. This piece documents the gnocchi recipe of an Italian friend of Dominique Sarthe.  The spinach sauce was invented deep in the mind cogs of Domi’s husband, Cyril Sarthe.

Paul and I met the Sarthe’s in their hometown of Cassagnabere-Tournas, France, where we spent the month of March WWOOFing on their farm. Being that it was early spring, we planted everything from tomatoes to eggplants to squashes, spinach, lettuces, corn, leeks, basil, parsley, potatoes even peanuts. We harvested radishes, leeks, carrots, turnips, parsnips, celery, arugula, and spinach. It was wonderful to eat veggies that were so incredibly fresh. (WWOOFing is a great way to travel cheap – we work about 5 hours/day for room and board. See our travel blog here.) Luckily for us, Domi and Cyril know about good food. Before farming, they had another life as owners of a pizzeria near Toulouse. Now they live about an hour and a half south of Toulouse, in an old farmhouse that’s nestled into the rolling hills that dominate the area.  On a clear day, you can see the Pyrenees in the distance; it’s gorgeous. The Spanish border is about 2 hours away.

I should preface this story with the fact that Paul and I came to France speaking very little French. By very little, I mean we took a 101 class at Idlewild Bookstore in NY that met once a week for about 2 months. However, on March 1, we arrived at the nearby train station of Boussens where we first laid eyes on Cyril Sarthe. Bonjour was about all we could muster. Everything else came out all messed up. All we could do was smile. The drive was well a bit uncomfortable. Cyril drove home and we dragged our heavy backpacks up to the room that would be our bedroom. Cyril managed to convey to us that Domi would be home soon. It was a Thursday evening; she was at tango class. (what!?)

When Domi got home, she was all dolled up in her tango best and full of energy. Dinner preparations began. Cyril toasted pinenuts and crushed them in a wooden mortar and pestle. Domi boiled water for some fresh pasta and minced garlic. The nuts and garlic were mixed with basil they had preserved in olive oil from last summer. A bit of salt and voila. Handfuls of pasta topped with fresh pesto and handfuls of salad topped with nutritional yeast and vinaigrette made from sunflower oil and homemade cider vinegar.

Our conversation was limited and difficult. But we found ways to communicate. And each day, we could communicate a little more, and some days were impossible and some days were not so bad, but we learned a good deal, trial by fire style. We shared every meal with Domi and Cyril, we slept across the hall, we shared the same bathroom, shower, everything. We spent a lot of time together. And it was tough sometimes. But in the end, it was probably the best thing for our French and we all got to know each other well.

Domi and Cyril work hard. They are certified organic farmers who live almost entirely off their plot of land – with a few exceptions like coffee and chocolate. They’ve got a couple of pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and sheep. They also have two doggies and five cats, but not for eating. Domi sells their veggies and homemade products like canned tomatoes and apple juice at the market each Saturday in Muret. And each Wednesday evening, clients would stop by to pick up veggie baskets as part of a CSA (called an AMAP here). We would spend Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for the CSA; Thursday and Friday preparing for Saturday’s market. There was always work to be done.

It was maybe three weeks in, when we started talking about what recipe we could document. Domi and Cyril liked this one because they each prepare a piece of it and it’s one of their favorites. The music is by Django Reinhart, who I know they both love, and the track is called Honeysuckle Rose. Hope you enjoy!

 

Merci beaucoup, Domi et Cyril! xxo