Monday, January 30, 2012

French Bread (Italian Style) and Lost Moments

Quite often, when I am bored, I will pick up one of my cookbooks and flip through it.  Looking for something to make in the future.  I have a cookbook that is from 1976 and not too long ago, I realized it contained treasured recipes from my ancestors.  I was looking though it just the other day and feeling a little nostalgic.  Up until I was 5 we lived next door to my "Aunt Catherine."  

(yes, this is seriously a Polaroid that I scanned.  Should that make me feel old because it SO does!  My brother and I with Aunt Catherine)
Who, in reality, was my great aunt.  She was my grandpa's sister and their parents came to America from Italy, just before they had children, to begin new lives.  She was the sweetest lady.  The kind who was always in the kitchen and always offered food upon our arrival.  I remember being baffled when I realized she had a front door at her house.  I didn't know if I had ever seen that door open.  I was almost fascinated with it and began to wonder if it did, indeed, lead to the outdoors.  We always went in the back door and sat around her table while she fluttered around the kitchen.  It was an oddity to sit in either of the living rooms in her house.  We only did that for birthday parties when the kitchen was filled to capacity. 

When I turned 5, we moved to a different part of town and rarely saw her anymore because my mom was upset with her over something.  I know why she was upset, but honestly, it doesn't even justify a mention.  Do those silly things even matter now?  They are both gone and I wonder if from the other side, they look back over their lives and roll their eyes over such petty decisions.  I am now missing those lost moments.  

It's not that I enjoyed cooking as a teenager.  Don't get me wrong, I made a lot of cookies and that sort of thing, but not the cooking I do now.  As I was looking through this priceless cookbook, I started to picture what my time with my aunt could have been like.  I share a similar interest with her or I would have if she were still here.  We could have spend countless hours in her kitchen with her showing me all those things her mother showed her and telling me what her life was like as a little girl, telling me about what my grandpa was like as a boy and who their parents were.  And now I roll my eyes at the pettiness of my teenage years and wonder why I would have thought that to be a complete bore. I am grateful that these recipe were preserved somewhere for me to find when I found myself (often in the kitchen).  At least I can thank my mom for that.  Not only did she give me the cookbook, but when she went to school at CEU she helped put it together. 

Looking through these recipes and reading her brief story made me yearn for a simpler time, when the kitchen was a place of gathering and memory making.  Too often, I shew my kids out of the kitchen and use it as a time for solitude.  I am going to try to be better.  Oh that's right, that's my New Year's Resolution!
I have already posted a french bread recipe that I used A LOT.  When I looked at the recipe in this book, I wondered how it could be better that the recipe I had.  I didn't have much faith.  Our equipment is better now, our supplies are better, it just seemed like it would be out of date.   But feeling nostalgic, as I was, I decided I wanted to make it either way.  I translated it to modern times, I had to find out what a "yeast cake" was and I used my mixer rather than the spoon it called for.  All bias aside, this was some of the best bread I have ever made.  It requires a bit more attention than the previous recipe but it's so delicious it's worth it!  Not that I am throwing out the old, I will keep that on hand for times I can't spare the extra attention for the bread, but this one now reigns as my favorite.  The outside of this bread isn't as crusty and chewy as the other, so if that's what you like about french bread, stick to the other one.

French Bread
1/2 cup warm water
1 T plus 1 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups hot water
3 T sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 T salt
5 1/2 -6 cups flour, divided (I used bread flour)
1 egg white and 1 tsp water for egg wash
sesame seeds (optional)

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup water 
and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.  
(if your yeast isn't foamy after 10 minutes something is wrong.  Either water was too hot, too cold or yeast is not good.  Remember you want the water to feel like a warm bath)

Meanwhile, add remaining water, 3 cups flour, salt, sugar and oil to bowl of mixer and mix on low 30 seconds and then turn to med and mix for 2-3 minutes.  ( I use the paddle for this part)  Once yeast is foamy, add to flour mixture and combine.  

Switch to dough hook and mix in flour 1/2 cup at a time.  Until all combined.  
The dough should be pretty sticky still, imagine being able to stir with a spoon (not super easy to stir with a spoon but still doable).  I used about 5 3/4 cups flour.  Turn off mixer and cover with a towel.  
Set timer for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes turn mixer on to stir down the dough.  Cover and let rest another ten minutes and then stir down again.  Repeat until it's been done a total of 5 times.  
Dump dough onto lightly floured surface and using only as much flour as necessary, divide into two balls 
and roll each out into a rectangle about 9x12.  
Roll up like a jelly roll and place on jelly roll pan or cookie sheet.  {I wish I had one of these Commercial II Non-Stick Perforated French Bread Pan, but I don't so I tried to fashion something similar and it worked pretty well}  Tear three pieces of tinfoil the length of your baking pan.  Keeping the length, fold in half 3 times and bend edges to make the foil stand up.
place on jelly roll pan about 3-4 inches apart and cover with parchment paper.
After placing each loaf on top of parchment, push bottom of foil underneath the edge of the dough.
Beat egg whites and water until frothy and brush over tops of loaves.  Slash 3-4 times with sharp knife and sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.  
Cover with greased plastic wrap and let raise until double in size.  About 30 minutes to an hour.
Bake at 400 for 35 minutes or until deep golden brown.  
Remove from oven and cover with a towel, let cool about 20 minutes.
We used it to make garlic bread and it was D-licious!
Garlic butter
1/2 cup butter
1-2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp parsley flakes (optional)

Heat 1 T butter over med heat, add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until softened but not brown.  Pour over remaining butter and cover and let sit for 20 minutes.  Stir in salt, Parmesan cheese, and parsley.  Spread over warm bread.
My Aunt Catherine reading a cookbook while watching TV.  See, I told you we had a lot in common. :)


  1. The bread looks great, but I'm LOVIN' the Durrant t-shirts! What a blast from the past!

    1. I knew someone would appreciate those shirts!! And I think I may have cut my own bangs. All around I am looking pretty awesome.


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