Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Joy of Baking With Julia

In the fall of 2001, I stopped baking bread.  Which wouldn't be such a remarkable event, had I not spent the previous 5 years exploring and perfecting the art of bread-baking, until such challenges as sourdough and bagels were a cinch, and a daily event.

But, as I mentioned before, in the fall of 2001, I entered the realm of low-carb eating.  Even when I wasn't "on-plan," I still did not indulge in the earthy pleasure of mixing, kneading, rising, baking, cooling, slicing, and eating yeast-dough based concoctions.  For the better part of a decade, I deprived myself and my loved ones of the exquisite aroma that can only be achieved by baking fresh bread at home.

Still, it was not without trepidation that I re-entered the world of bread-baking.  Kind of silly, actually, since bread baking is EASY.  I guess my general mental laziness was raising pre-emptive objections to the time-consuming, detail-oriented nature of the task, not to mention having to clean up the floured counter more than once.

I had read somewhere on the Internet about a "no-knead bread" recipe.  Although it seemed like an ideal way to reacquaint myself with the wonders of bread-baking, I was skeptical at first.  I believed that kneading was necessary in order to achieve any sort of edible texture.  But the general consensus in the recipe reviews was that this recipe was a winner.  I figured that if it sucked, all I lost was 3 cups of flour and a pinch of salt and yeast.   The biggest part of the process is waiting 12-18 hours for the first rise, and 2 hours for the second rise, so it does take quite a bit of advance planning if you want to have fresh bread for breakfast.

The bread was simply awesome.  Crusty, chewy, rustic like those loaves you get at overpriced artisanal bakeries.  It has a hearty crumb, and a sourdough-like flavor that belies the simplicity of the preparation.  Heavenly with fresh butter, and even better dipped in olive oil.  Husband and I devoured half a loaf immediately.  It also serves well to make sandwiches, French toast, or bread pudding.  It's great as an accompaniment to a warm bowl of soup on a chilly evening.  Spread a thin layer of Nutella on it and you're transported back to Paris, whether you've ever been there or not.


Here's a couple of pictures of my first finished loaf:

Still, lovely as this bread is, it doesn't replace the square slices we are used to when it comes to making lunchbox sandwiches.  For that, I was going to have to use a traditional, kneaded-bread recipe.  I did a lot of searching on the internet for the best white sandwich bread recipe.  There are literally millons of recipes out there.  I needed something that didn't have oats, or rye, or potato flour, or anything that I didn't already have in my kitchen.

Luck would have it that I had all the ingredients for JULIA CHILD'S WHITE BREAD recipe, from the book "Baking with Julia."  Good old Julia.  I know from experience that, if you follow her recipes to the letter, you will not be disappointed in the results.  Seriously.  The first Julia Child recipe I ever tried was her hand-beaten Hollandaise, on a lovely Easter Sunday after having survived the wringer of Holy Week services at an Episcopal church.  Julia came through with her Hollandaise.  Seriously, her recipes cannot fail.

Back to the bread.  This recipe, like most typical kneaded loaves, takes upwards of three hours to make from start to finish.  And, unlike the no-knead bread, ignoring it for a long time isn't part of the process.  Yes, there is waiting involved, but you can't walk away from home or go to sleep while the bread rises.

The final result was worthy of Saint Julia.  Soft texture, even crumb, delicate flavor that carries fillings without overwhelming them.  It made an awesome chicken salad sandwich for me, and some really really lovely toast for Husband's fried eggs and bacon.

Here is a picture:
The only downside to this recipe is that it turns out two large loaves.  This is good if you have a large family taking sandwiches to work and school on a daily basis.  Husband and I don't eat enough bread to finish even one loaf in the space of a week.  Next time, I'll halve the recipe.  Fortunately, we have a houseguest coming to visit this week, and we can send him home with the excess.

Both of these recipes are total keepers.


  1. Ohhh both of those breads look amazing, Carolina!


  2. You can also freeze the second loaf.

  3. I'd rather make less, more often. One of the great things about baking is making the house smell awesome. That doesn't happen when you freeze the bread.