Leap of Faith: French Bread
You too can make this at homeThere is a first challenge that one executes to the best of their ability and in doing so, improves. I have always preferred to those kinds of recipes that we can take elements from, transform, be inspired by, interpret and leap from, freely. I have put effort into research for recipes from the regions and always respect a classic recipe when its the first time I follow it, but I've also come to a certain pleasure in not using a recipe at all, or just being inspired by one.
Baking involves following the rules, all the time. Every time I've been tempted to stray while baking, I ended up with a big mess on my hands. For a time, I convinced myself that baking was fussy. But I think that was a defense mechanism. To give me an excuse for the failed birthday cakes. I have got to get over it. In embarking on these challenges with the Daring Bakers, I face the truth and seek to master a certain fear.
Everyone must face the fear of failure, and push through it in order to grow. In many ways, life happiness depends on our ability to push through it. Pastry is a vocation that actually serves the perfectionist well. If you learn the specific properties of the materials you are working with, how they react to heat and cold, and if you respect them, you can do great things with pastry. If you embrace the rules of the game and spend the time to follow recipes, you still end up victorious. If you can't, you go to the corner bakery or the grocery store and purchase your pastry.
Loic proposed marriage to me on July 3, 1999. I responded yes, with a condition. That he go to America and live as a foreigner for one year before we made the move to France. There had been some talk, I had an inkling that it might not be easy. I had lived in foreign countries before. The difference this time was that I had never moved to a foreign country to live there for the rest of my life. Expats and immigrants have different experiences. I had this idea that any culture shock I endured in France might resonate more deeply this time. I wanted him to understand. So we worked it out, and he chose the city in America, as agreed, where he could experience life together with him as a foreigner, just in case he needed to understand what it was like, you know. He got a post in a research team at UCLA and we made the move.
The first thing I realized once we got him to the States was that it wasn't going to be easy for him. Being in Los Angeles was particularly hard. Some people spend a great deal of time trying to recreate what they left behind. A kind of obsession began to develop on what he was missing and we used that as a springboard for exploring various nooks and crannies in the sprawl of the City of Angels. Pretty much all of our time outside of work was spent trying to fulfill a need for food in the French spirit of things, which was o.k. by me. We got to know the French bakery on Westwood Boulevard. There was a lot of footwork and scheduling involved in getting fresh bread. The more we sought some kind of regular existence, the more Loic realized that our constant long periods trapped in traffic across the expanse of Los Angeles in the course of food seeking missions could not be sustained. (The French feel claustrophobic in cars, not good in L.A.)
He came home to our studio with loft across from the UCLA campus, the one with the dingy whisper of spillover frat parties past and a strong undertone of carpet cleaner that never went away, with a book, in French. It was one that explained the science of bread. The thing he missed the most was the bread. He simply could not make do with what we had available then. At the time, I had spent some time studying in Paris, but not long enough to develop a corporal need for fresh daily bread. Since the air, the water, schedules and budgets could not provide, he began to make his own bread at home.
He kept a large lab book within which he silently noted all of his experiments. He raised levain in a white jar we got at the dollar store, that he kept on top of the refrigerator, carefully tended to and observed. He spent time executing different loaf making techniques. He rolled out of bed before dawn every day to form the loaves and we had hot bread with coffee before I donned my pantyhose, put on my suits and hit the traffic on the 405 in my dinged up 1990 silver Toyota Corolla to bring home some bacon.
Honestly, I had no involvement in the bread making at all back then. None. I wasn't even interested in it. You had to get up too early. He was the man and he made the bread with a book in French. I just ate it in the mornings and loved him. He never even talked about it. We eventually came to France and embraced the boulangerie tradition, by choosing our bakery and proclaiming our fidelity to the one we loved the best. I didn't love Loic any less when he stopped making bread, of course.
In a flash in my mind's eye, I have something that seems like a memory but I know hasn't happened yet. Simple living in a small town somewhere in New York. Maybe in a college town, with lots of books, dark wood, deep snow outside. And French bread baking. It's just an illusion. Just a composition of memories and hopeful emotions tinged with the remorse that comes with missing family. We do have vacations there from time to time. We may be in the need for French bread here and again. This task is quite important to learn, then.
The Daring Baker's Challenge recipe this month was to follow exactly from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II, pages 57-74, her recipe for French Bread. You can do this at home. Don't be afraid. It is really quite liberating. This challenge was hosted by Sara at i like to cook and breadchick at The Sourdough. To see the results from my fellow Daring Bakers, click here.