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Celebrate Bastille Day with Real French Bread (Pain Francais)

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Whenever a Chef makes a personal appearance, there are two questions always asked: 1) Are you single? 2) What is the first dish you ever made? To answer these questions, yes and Pain Francais (French bread).

Fact: French bread is indeed an art-form. It has probably the most simple ingredients in the history of the culinary arts. The steps to make it can followed by a newly weaned puppy. The secret to the art, however, is in your fingers.

Fact: French bread ( the real Pain Francais) was introduced to America by Chef Julia Child! Yes, this is true! In her incredible (and must-have cookbook) The Art of French Cooking, Julia Child shared with those outside of France the art of making this bread. You see, French flour is different than American flour (this in regard to gluten) and to keep this from becoming a chemistry class, in short Julie Child took a couple of years to figure out a recipe to make American flour able to make real Pain Francais (French bread) -- and you would know all this if you followed me on Facebook!

Fact: There is only one type of French bread. True! There is only one dough used for all those versions of French breads. The various names for the breads come not from a different recipe, but a different shape. For instance -- a loaf of French bread is the same damn thing as a baguette, it's just that the baguette is shaped longer and thinner.

Any home cook can make Pain Francais (French bread), albeit might not look as good as the loaves you buy in a Paris boulangerie (bakery). It takes a great deal of skill to shape French breads but regardless, you can still eat and enjoy what pops out of your oven.

Above I mentioned the secret to great French bread is in your fingers and this is why this dough must always be kneaded by hand. You try this in a mixer or God-forbid a food processor and you will not have anything even resembling the dough needed to make French bread. It will take you a while to get accustomed to the feel of the dough but to make it simple, this dough is kneaded to perfection once it no longer sticks to your hands or the counter you are kneading it on.

And I should also point out it takes about 5 hours to make real Pain Francais, as it takes three rising periods, but you know what, the time is well worth it. In the slideshow for this recipe, I have made a baguette.

Don't be discouraged if your bread does not come out looking like something from that piece of trash known as the Food Channel. It takes time, patience and experience to get this down - regardless, you will have a very good bread and the actual tastes of Paris!

Ingredients needed to make Pain Francais (French bread) - (makes 2 baguettes or 1 loaf):

  • 2 1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 3 1/2 cups flour (no need for the rip-off "bread flour" crap)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water

Steps:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk the yeast into the 1/3 cup warm water. Set the bowl aside 10 minutes for the yeast to proof.
  2. In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt, 1 1/4 cups warm water and the proofed yeast until a "glop" forms.
  3. Remove the "glop" to a floured surface and knead, by hand, 10 minutes. The "glop" has now turned into a dough! It should be smooth, not sticky and when a finger is lightly pushed into it, the dough should bounce back.
  4. Place the dough back into the large bowl, cover with a clean towel and let rise 1 hour in a warm, draft-free area.
  5. Punch the dough down. Place the dough on a flat surface and knead 5 minutes. Place back into the bowl, cover and let rise 1 hour.
  6. Punch the dough down again. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide in half (if making baguettes). Roll each half into an oblong (rectangle) shape (if making a simple loaf, do the same without dividing the dough).
  7. Roll the dough, very tightly, to form a baguette and tightly tuck in the edges.
  8. Pre-heat your oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon sheet.
  9. Place the loaves on the prepared pan. Make slashes, with a sharp knife, across the tops and dust with flour. Let the dough rise about 1 hour.
  10. Place in the oven and bake about 30 minutes for baguettes and 40 minutes for loaf.
  11. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

The new cookbook from Chef Larry Edwards is now available from Amazon.com and bookstores worldwide. One of the most anticipated cookbooks of the year, "Edwardian Cooking: Inspired by Downton Abbey's Elegant Meals."

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