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.

Potato Latkes & Applesauce

Are you ready to witness a top notch Chanukah recipe passed from one generation to the next? That’s how we do! It was a special treat to shoot with  NY chef, teacher and cookbook author Peter Berley and his daughter Emma Jean at Peter’s teaching kitchen on the North Fork of Long Island. For those of you who are not familiar with latkes, you don’t know what you are missing! They are also known as potato pancakes, they taste incredible with applesauce, but it is also very common for folks to eat them with sour cream or even a bit of both. You can serve them on their own for a snack or as a side dish with dinner. They are delicious.

Peter Berley’s beautiful new teaching kitchen in Jamesport, NY

Like Emma Jean and Peter himself, I grew up glopping lots of applesauce onto my latkes so I am excited to have learned how to make applesauce from scratch! Latkes are a fried food but Peter has found a way of keeping them from being heavy. His latkes are light, fluffy and crunchy all at once. I’ve seen other recipes that call for 1/2 inch of oil or more but I think Peter’s shallow fry, or pan fry, is the way to go. There are many latke recipes out there, but this one may take the cake. I had the pleasure of sampling the goods and they were the best. I could have eaten ten.

You can make the applesauce and latkes simulaneously. Get your apples cooking first, then you’ll have plenty of time to prep your latkes. Before you begin frying latkes, mill your apples so your latkes can be served up hot and fresh as possible. Peter also suggests turnip latkes or adding a bit of grated carrot, or chopped scallion or chives to the mix. Have fun, experiment and let us know what you think!

Applesauce:

(makes about 2 quarts)

Ingredients :
5 pounds red apples (cortlands are best but can also use
McCoons, Empires, Galas or others)

Method:
1. Wash the apples. Halve core and slice into 2 inch chunks (do not peel them!)
2. Place the apples in a heavy pot and bring to a simmer over high heat, give
them a few stirs to prevent scorching.
3. Lower the heat and cover the pot. Cook gently until they turn soft and juicy,
about 30-40 minutes.
4. Puree the apples in a hand cranked food mill.
5. Serve alone, atop latkes or any way you like!

Notes on Applesauce:
If an apple (or pear) is on it’s way out, getting soft or over ripe, it’s a good time to sauce it.
When making applesauce, use a heavy pot – in a thin one, apples will burn before they sauce.
In addition to the pink color the skins provide, Peter keeps the skin on his apples for the pectin, which is just under the skin of apples. Pectin has a thickening effect on the sauce.
You can add cinnamon once the apples are cooked, but that doesn’t go so well with latkes.
Your applesauce will keep for 1-2 weeks in the fridge without any preserving method.

Potato Latkes

(makes 10-12 latkes)

Ingredients:
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1 cup onion, coarsely grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 cup ( or more ) vegetable oil or shmaltz

Method:
1. Fill a large bowl with cold water.
2. As you grate the potatoes and onions transfer them to the water (this prevents them from turning
brown).
3. Drain the potatoes & onion mixture and place in a large to a clean towel. Ring out as much water as
you can. You can also do this by hand in batches.
4. Transfer the potato-onion mixture to a large bowl and stir in the beaten egg, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Heat a large skillet with 4 tablespoons of oil until hot but not smoking.
6. Fill a 1/2 cup measuring cup with potato mixture and press out excess liquid back into the bowl.
Add the mixture to the pan and flatten into a 3 inch round with a spatula.
7. Fry 3-4 pancakes at a time or whatever amount will fit comfortably in the pan without overcrowding it.
Cook until golden brown on each side. Drain the pancakes on brown paper. Season with a little salt.
8. Serve immediately or drain on a wire rack and keep warm in a 300 degree oven.

Notes on Latkes:
For this recipe, do not use extra virgin olive oil. Extra light pure olive oil, safflower or canola oil are best.
Once pan is hot, keep flame low.
You can make the grated potato mixture a day ahead. Keep it in the fridge with plastic directly on the grated mixture so no air gets to it.
If preparing latkes for a crowd, you can keep them in warm oven around 200.
If you are vegan, can use flour instead of egg to help bind the latkes.

 

Thank you Emma Jean and Peter! And as usual, thank you Sintalentos, Trokon Nagbe, and Mister Helzer. And thank you Momma and Pops Helzer for lending us the car so we could shoot this piece! Also merci, Domi et Cyril, pour le pomme et le pomme de terre ;). As for music credits: Meg’s Shopping Spree (Take Without Giving) and The Fall of Benson Mining by Sven Libaek; Something Elated by Broke for Free; Kolomeiko by Tres Tristes Tangos; Leno by Vlada Tomova Balkan Tales.

Wild Chanterelle Bruschetta

The story of Foraging with Fialkoff

Georgia and Donna are two peas in a pod. They are saucy and strong, petite and powerful, serious and silly. In July, we spent a beautiful day gathering chanterelle mushrooms in northern Vermont. Donna has been foraging for mushrooms for 15 years and like most foragers, she is secretive about her spots. These are the locations to which she returns annually to harvest her coveted wild fungus, including chanterelles, morels, boletes, and her favorite, hen of the woods, or the maitake. Donna blind-folded us and took us to some secret locations and made us swear never to tell! Just kidding about the blind-folds, but these are some serious secret spots. Not only was it a new experience for Georgia, who had never foraged with her mom before, but it was a new experience for me. Georgia (and I) learned a lot. Maybe I was naive, but I always thought mushrooms need to be cooked in a lot of oil because they are so absorbent. I never realized that if you saute them in a little bit of butter and/or oil, water will cook out of them, concentrating their flavor. Wild mushrooms have a very subtle flavor and lend themselves to dishes in which they can be featured. Donna (and Georgia, when she is visiting from Brooklyn) prepares her mushrooms differently every time, but suggests cooking them with bland staples like pasta, toast, rice or eggs. Don’t use too many flavorful herbs, because they can be overpowering. I now know that throwing a load of mushrooms, especially ones you spent all day harvesting from the woods, into a tomato sauce is criminal. The mushrooms will absorb the tomato flavor and the flavors of the mushrooms, themselves, will be overwhelmed. This is precisely why Wild Chanterelle Bruschetta is phenomenal. You could use same preparation on pasta. And since chanterelles can be expensive (I’ve seen them for $50/lb in the store), you might consider trying this out with shittakes. Also, I want to share a few other things I learned that I think are really useful:

How to clean mushrooms: some people say not to wash mushrooms. Washing them in water can make some mushrooms gooey and gross. It can also dilute the subtle flavors. It is best to remove dirt with a knife or blow it off with a turkey baster.

How to store mushrooms: In a paper bag in the fridge. Stored in a plastic bag with no air, they will sweat and go bad much more quickly.

Eating raw mushrooms: Mushrooms need to be cooked in order for our bodies to absorb the good nutritional value they have to offer. Raw, they really have no nutritional value and can be tough to digest.

Poisonous mushrooms: Donna mentions one beautiful white mushroom called the Angel of Death, which is poisonous and can kill. Because this one is so dangerous, she tends to avoid all white mushrooms. In fact, if she has any question about a mushroom, she avoids it. Even if they aren’t deadly, some mushrooms can cause fairly severe gastrointestinal problems. Some even react poorly with alcohol. Educate yourself before you go off and start eating all kinds of unidentified wild mushrooms in the woods! In other words, do not try this at home.

On the other hand, definitely try THIS at home:


Thank you, Donna & Georgia. It was so much fun. Thanks Trokon Nagbe and Topiary Productions for your audio equipment. Thank you for your musical suggestions, Sintalentos. Thanks for helping out, Yashua & Chitra!

Music credits: The Next Time Around by Little Joy; Straw Man by Les Blanks; The Dolls’ Tea Party by The Magnetic Fields; Road by Nick Drake; Sing my Lord by Ponies In The Surf; Everybody’s Missing the Sun covered by Ladybug Transistor

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.