29 February 2008

French Bread




“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude”

--Julia Child




This one's for my dad.

I remember where I was when the news hit that Julia Child had passed away. I was with my parents and brother in the middle of a road trip to Wisconsin, we had stopped for lunch at this truly-wonderful roadside diner in the middle of Iowa. There was a small TV in the corner, although most of us were hardly gave it a passing glance while busy making small talk and waiting for our lunch plates to make their appearance.

Suddenly my dad said, “Julia Child died! Oh no!”. And there it was, up on the TV screen. I didn't know a whole lot about her at the time, but my dad seemed truly saddened. Turns out, he really loved the old gal. He'd watch her shows, he adored the way she cooked and that spunky attitude of hers. And my dad, he somewhat embodies her – my fondest memories from my childhood of my father would be watching him bustle around a steamy kitchen while trying out some new gourmet dish, playing around with seasonings or a different roasting method. Glass of wine at his elbow, cheerfully whisking things together. Always a new cooking adventure with him.


I was not the same kind of cook when I moved out on my own, not by a long shot. I was kinda sorta maybe (okay, a lot) afraid of cooking and baking. In college I made lots of Hamburger Helper and Duncan Hines cake mixes, just like my fellow roommates. After college, I branched out a bit, but mostly with family recipes that I knew well and could handle easily: meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole, my mom's banana bread and her amazing Christmas treats. Those other recipes? Ethnic foods and fancy meringue and yeast breads from scratch? No, oh no no no. Too intimidating. I'd screw it up, I just knew it. So I left them alone.

That is, until I heard of Julia Child's passing. After getting home from that Wisconsin trip, I was curious and did some research on her life. Turns out, she didn't learn to cook until she was 32 years old! And she trained at the Cordon Bleu! She brought French cooking to the masses! She was vivacious and charming and loved life so much that she didn't let anything get her down. So what if her omelet stuck to the pan on live TV, she'd say? Get over it, move on, and try again. What a great philosophy on cooking, such a remarkable woman.

So, from that day forward, I decided to give it a shot. Started with some easy from-scratch recipes I found in books, and worked my way up to where I am today. I am a recent addition to the Daring Bakers group, but a long-time fan. I remember telling my dad excitedly on the phone when I joined, and also letting him in on the Challenges as soon as I heard about them (sorry fellow DBs, but hey he's not telling anyone). I am now officially a cook and baker, and proud of it. And that would be my dad and Julia Child's doing.



So anyhoo, when the Daring Bakers Challenge was posted for February, believe me: I almost fell out of my chair. Julia Child! Julia Child's French Bread! I could hardly believe it, I was so excited. Then again, it was 4 ingredients with 18 printed pages of instruction, but hey. Gotta get over the fear, right? Isn't that Julia's (as well as the Daring Bakers') mantra? So away I went, off to buy some unglazed quarry tiles and make some dough. Of course, I didn't share this one with my dad, to surprise him.





French Bread
(from Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. II)

I should probably get on and talk about the bread, eh? It was actually really really fun, and I plan on making this again and again. I need to give massive props to Mary and Sara: this was one very cool, very memorable challenge. The kneading and rising took awhile, sure, but it was all oh-so worth the wait: the crumb was tight but the inside soft, with a nice, crusty, crunchy crust. Ahhhhhhh. I made 2 boules and an epi (“sheaf of wheat”), and Hubs and I gobbled up 2 loaves by the next morning. Nothing better, my friends, than fresh-baked French bread, some butter, and brie for dinner and breakfast the next day! Even my Muzzy would be proud (that would be because of the butter, my mom loves some butter on everything).

If you wanna give this a shot: Breadchick herself graciously made a post with the full, 16-page, instruction-filled recipe, if you so desire; just clicky-click here (if for no other reason, do it to find out how to simulate a European stone oven in your own kitchen). Please try this. Julia would be proud. It's amazing and you'll be glad you did, I promise.

One last thing: please check out the other dear Daring Bakers posts! These girls rock, and deserve some reading of their awesome outcomes as well.

36 comments:

Gretchen Noelle said...

Nemmie - what a lovely post! It was a great read and wonderful to see your gorgeous bread!

Ann said...

So beautiful! We also had ours with cheese and wine. bread like that deserves the best accompaniments!

Sarah said...

Your bread looks great!

L Vanel said...

I totally agree that Julia would be proud. Your epi looks amazing. Your result was excellent!

Karen said...

Well done! Your bread looks Fabulous!

~Amber~ said...

Your breads look beautiful! Congratulations on a successful challenge.

Sarah said...

I, too, hold a deep love for Julia Child.
Have you read Julie/Julia, yet? I think you would love it.

Jerry said...

Beeeeeutiful!

marye said...

This looks delicious!

Jenny said...

Mmmmm! Your bread turned out beautifully! It was a nice challenge.

Mary said...

Your bread is beautiful and what an inspiring story! And I love the Julia Child quote at the beginning too!

Namratha said...

That's a perfectly bakes loaf and well shaped too...good going :)

Quellia said...

Wonderful! I bet your dad was thrilled!
PS If you do read Julie/Julia, be warned, that Julie swears like a sailor in it! Interesting read though.

kate said...

your bread looks fabulous!
i skipped this month, but man, i am sort of regretting it. everyone's bread looks so amazing.

julia is missed for sure. i used to watch her with my grandmother. good memories. . .

Catherine Wilkinson said...

just beautiful.
and I loved the story about your dad saddened by her passing. I still can't believe how much I cried at "Ratatouille"! Food and memory...so wired together

kellypea said...

You are a great story teller. I can just picture you family on that trip and sitting in that diner. Nice. And your bread is quite lovely. I've got to try one of those epi loaves one day when I'm brave. They're so pretty.

culinography said...

Such a lovely post! And beautiful bread!!

Laura said...

What a great post...and great bread

breadchick said...

What an absolutely lovely and wonderful post about Julia and your Dad! I'm so very glad you enjoyed the challenge and can tell you have Julia's attitude about cooking in you as well.

Your epi is perfect!!

Thanks so much for baking with Sara and I!

Mother Bliss said...

What a nice story. Thank you. I'm sure Julia is in tears up in heaven, so touched by all that adore her. Your bread looks wonderful, I wish mine came out that good! :)

Brilynn said...

So many people have been inspired by Julia Child, great looking bread!

Sheltie Girl said...

Your bread turned out beautifully. I love how you wove your Dad and Julia Child throughout your story.

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Megan said...

Cool story! I love the loaf that looks like barbed wire.

Tartelette said...

What a nice tribute to Julia! Your breads turned out gorgeous! I love the spiky ends of your epi...beautiful!

Joy said...

The bread and butter photo is making me very hungry and I've just eaten dinner! Lovely post and it sounds like a very inspirational Dad.

Jessy and her dog Winnie said...

Beautiful bread!

Jaime said...

what a great story! i am sure that your dad is so proud :)

Sara said...

your pictures are stunning!

Emiline said...

What a nice dedication...
And truly beautiful bread.

Peabody said...

You got some fabulous crust there! Wow, looks great.

Jigginjessica said...

I think it is great that you were so inspired by Julia's story. Your bread turned out fantastic! Congrats!

Meryl said...

I'm so impressed that you did the whole making your own bread oven thing--awesome! And your bread looks wonderful!

Jenny said...

I really want to go see Julia's kitchen in the Smithsonian. Has your Dad ever been (or you)?

Great job on this challenge.

Lesley said...

Your breads look so good, the shine on the crust is just perfect. I love the way you've prepared it too, makes me hungry!

Claire said...

"what the hell" was a pretty constant phrase during the process of making my bread - but yours inspires me to much more aesthetically beautiful heights! Nice work.

Deborah said...

I loved your write up - such a great tribute!! Your bread looks amazing!