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Food and Film, an Oscar Celebration: Gigi and Pain Francais (French Bread)

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The Oscar's, or Academy Awards, have become an international yearly tradition for film fans the world over. Millions of people look forward to the one day of the year when a gold plated little naked bald man takes over the media universe. Whether you love or hate the choices of the academy members, the fact-of-the-matter is, the Oscar's are a cause for celebration -- and what better way to celebrate than with food! This year we'll celebrate with some great food from the films which have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture.

Gigi (Best Picture, 1958): Gigi is one of the most beloved of the big-budget (albeit only 3.5 million dollars, which was big-budget in 1958) Hollywood musicals. It is a simple story of a young girl and her friendship with a rich playboy centered around the beauty and aristocracy of Paris. In 1958, Gig was nominated for nine Oscars and in a record breaking Academy Award evening, it won all nine Oscars -- including Best Picture and Best Director (Vincent Minnelli -- yes, Liza's father!). As you might expect from a motion picture filmed in France, food was an important co-star and there is no French food more beloved than Pain Francais, or as American's know it... 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 be 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.

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
  • 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 (foam).
  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 a loaf.
  11. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

The internationally bestselling cookbook from Chef Larry Edwards, "Edwardian Cooking: 80 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey's Elegant Meals," is now in it's third printing and available worldwide in both hard cover and e-book versions. The paperback version will be released March 4, 2014.

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