Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I thought I’d tell you a little about how and why I became a Crazy Cook. It is all my mom’s fault. Yep. I grew up with a mom who always cooked. You know, casseroles, lasagna, tacos, meatloaf, roasted chicken – all your family basics. But then she went to a new level. She wound up working with Abby Mandel (the original Cuisinart Queen, who unfortunately passed away in 2008). First it was as assistant in Abby’s cooking classes, then it was cookbook editing, then it was recipe testing for cookbooks. We’ll never forget the “sorbet chapter.” What looked like refreshing lemon sorbet in the freezer was … onion sorbet. Yuh huh. And then there was the parsley tempura chapter. Along with that came pizza nights – homemade crust, sauce and all the toppings. Coq au Vin (what kid wants to willingly eat purple chicken?) Exotic-at-the-time Mexican fare like enchiladas. With homemade tortillas, of course. And so it was born. An appreciation and knowledge of food that, while dormant at times during my life, rushed back at me like some kind of culinary tsunami when I bought the condo I live in now, because of the fabulous kitchen.
My siblings also inherited the food gene: both sisters and my bro love to cook and do it well. Suffice it to say, our family gatherings feature amazing food, wherever they are. (To my sister in law, I say, “catch up!”)
So, this Mother’s Day: I say this: Thanks, Mom, for a lifetime of good food, good laughs and good times over great meals!
My two sisters and mom - with a homemade birthday cake, of course.
The two-turkey showdown at Thanksgiving 2009.
And now: I share with you my adventures in chasing the elusive baguette. How perfect that I “borrowed” my mom’s baguette pan recently and realized that the big, earthenware crock I always use for bread-rising belonged to my great-grandmother. So it was a multi-generational effort here, my first stab at baguettes. I can’t say I achieved perfection – far from it – but I didn’t end up with a disaster either (for which I was mentally prepared!)
First attempt at baguettes, using mom's old baguette pan
Here’s What I Did
1 C water
2.5 C bread flour (I used King Arthur brand)
1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp salt
1 packet rapid-rise yeast
1. In a Pyrex measuring cup, mix 1 C warm water (not cold; I used an instant-read digital thermometer to make sure it was about 105 F give or take a few degrees) and the packet of yeast. Meanwhile, warm the metal bowl of your KitchenAid stand mixer (just the outside, under warm water from the faucet. Add the yeast-water mixture to bowl.
2) Whisk together your flour, sugar and salt in a separate mixing bowl.
3) Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and turn the mixer onto low or medium. When it’s incorporated (2 minutes or so), turn off mixer and add the other half. Start on slow and then let ‘er rip on medium speed for another 2 minutes or so, until it’s a big, blobby blob of dough that cleans the sides of the bowl. Turn off the mixer.
4) Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled earthenware crock just like my great grandma’s OR whatever bowl you like. For some reason, I avoid plastic bowl – ceramic or glass seems to work better. Cover with a cotton dish towel – not terry cloth.
My mom's baguette pan and great-grandma's earthenware crock.
5) MAGIC TRICK TIME: Preheat your oven for one minute to 400F. Turn off oven. Put a roasting pan with about 2 inches of warm-ish water on the bottom of your oven. This makes the perfect environment for rising. Place covered bowl of dough into oven, shut the door and let ‘er rise for one hour.
6) Ding! Take it out and it should be about doubled in size. Flour your hands and plop it onto a floured surface. Now. Get ready to roll! Roll, roll, roll your dough into a 16″ by 12″ inch rectangle. Now chop ‘er in half, from the 12″ side, so you have two 8″ by 12″ inch pieces of dough. With your hands, roll each piece tightly so you wind up with a 12″-long cylinder of dough. Make sure the seam side is down and place into lightly oiled baguette pan.
7) Slash It Up! With a sharp knife, cut deep diagonal slashes every two inches.
Slasher time: deep slashes every two inches is the name of the game.
8) Pre-heat the oven again for one minute to 400F and turn it off. Put pans back into oven, covered with the same cotton dish towel for another hour.
9) Ding! Take them out – they’ll have doubled again. Now, just set ’em on the counter while you preheat the oven to 375F. I used an egg wash this first time, but I’m not doing that again – I don’t think it added anything. What I will do next time is, spritz the dough lightly with water, right before baking, from a little mister-sprayer thing.
10) Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Ding! Remove from oven, let cool just a bit and get ’em out of the pans as soon as you can touch them. Let them cool the rest of the way on a rack.
11) Slice and savor with good, salted butter and sigh!
These freeze very well, wrapped in foil, for about a month or two.
Quest for Perfection
I’m going to try again with the water misting thing, which I’ve read can alter the texture to result in a chewier bread. But perfection takes practice and at least I’ve got one round under my belt.
Left around for a week, this makes amazing French toast. Or bread pudding. Or croutons. Or bread crumbs. So many uses for a humble loaf of bread!
Read Full Post »