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.
(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.