The leader of the Relentlessly Groovy Cultural Society invited me and few of the girls over to bake bread, drink wine and watch Under the Tuscan Sun. Laura Hacker-Brown knows about hospitality and rolling out the welcome mat. She’s the colonel’s wife and she’s had to move multiple times with her husband and twin boys during the course of her husband’s career. So, she wastes no time in getting settled in a neighborhood and making friends.
It was a Friday night and I had kids to drive here and there and things I should be doing, but Laura’s nudging was too tempting for me to resist. I just knew it was what I needed at the end of a long week.
Her concept: bring some girls together (no matter our age, we will always be “girls”), pour some wine, and get to know each other over mixing, kneading and baking French bread. By using the quick method in the recipe below, we even got to enjoy the bread with some French Onion Soup Laura whipped up before our eyes. Perfect fare for a chilly night.
We never got to the movie. No need. We were sated with bread, food, wine and Laura’s warm hospitality. Thank you, Laura, you are trés groovy!
The author says, “The elements of the pain ordinaire, or everyday bread, are flour, water, salt and yeast and are basically the same as they were 8,000 years ago. French bread should have a crackly crust, a chewy texture, lost of uneven holes, a long side crack from expansion in the oven, and a grainy taste. It’s best eaten hot, straight out of the over, for as it cools, it begins to go stale.”
- 1-1/2 packages (1-1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups warm water (105⁰ to 115⁰)
- 3 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Egg glaze (lightly beat an egg white with one tablespoon of water)
- Sprinkle yeast and sugar over water in a large bowl. Stir until combined. Let stand until dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes.
- Add 2 cups bread flour and salt. Beat hard with a whisk for 3 minutes, or until smooth. Add remaining bread and unbleached flour one-half cup at a time with a wooden spoon. The dough will form a shaggy mass and clear sides of the bowl.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time as necessary, until dough becomes soft, silky and resilient, about 5 minutes. It will not be sticky.
- Place dough in a greased bowl and turn once to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a cool area of the kitchen until tripled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. If you have time punch dough down and allow it to rise again, about 1 hour. The dough may also rise in the refrigerator overnight.
- Gently deflate dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into two portions for the baguette pan. Knead in more flour now, if necessary.
- Press each portion of the dough into half of the French bread pan. Slash tops diagonally with a serrated knife sprayed with oil and brush with egg glaze. Place in a cold oven on the middle or lower rack.
- Turn on over to 400⁰ and bake for 35-40 minutes until crusty. Eat immediately.