By Gini Rainey
Okay, I’ll admit it! I’m a slacker. Actually, I took a couple weeks away from writing my blog, but the time was well spent. My husband and I had a wonderful time in Paris. Such a good time that I believe we experienced cultural overload. Paris, like so much of Europe, is filled with so many wonderful treasures that to try and see all of it is nearly impossible. We not only went to The Louvre, The D’Orsay, and the Musee Marmottan Monet, among others, but also went to Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, and Saint Sulpice (the largest church in Paris. We took a half day side trip to Giverney and walked through the gardens and home that inspired the artist, Claude Monet. I even ran my right hand down the banister in hopes that a small amount of inspiration from the father of French Impressionism might cling to my painting hand.
Not being much of a walker, my pedometer didn’t quite know what to make of the nearly 5 miles a day that we covered while in Paris. The only thing that saved me was the periodic stops adult beverages we made at the sidewalk cafés that are a standard fixture in Paris. One of the best was the Brasserie Les Deux Palais that was across the street from The Sainte-Chapelle (that has the most amazingly beautiful 40 foot high stained glass windows) and the Conciergerie (once the palace of medieval kings prior to being used as a prison).
We ordered the mixed cheese board and were pleasantly surprised with three kinds of cheese and three kinds of meat, along with a basket of crusty baguettes, butter, and mustard. Our intent was a light snack, but after eating all of this along with a couple of glasses of red wine, we found that there was not need – nor room – for anything else .
My favorite French chef, Jaques Pepin, has a recipe for rolls and baguettes in his cookbook “Today’s Gourmet” that was published in 1991 by KQED, Inc., and while you might not actually be in one of Paris’ sidewalk cafés, you can certainly recreate the experience at home on your own patio and take pride in the homemade baguettes you made with your own two hands.
Pepin’s recipe has you placing 2 envelopes yeast, 2 cups tepid water, and ½ teaspoon sugar in the bowl of a food processor and it proof (sit) for 5 minutes. Then, add 4 ½ cups bread flour, 1 cup rolled wheat, and 1 ½ teaspoon salt to the processor bowl and process for 1 to 2 minutes until the ingredients form a ball. Grease a bowl with 1 teaspoon peanut oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1 ½ to 2 hours until double or triple in bulk. Push down gently to let the air out and place the dough on a large cookie sheet and spread it out with your hands to a rectangle about 14 x 9 inches. Cut the rectangle into four strips and move two strips to one side of the sheet and spinkle them on both sides with ½ tablespoon cornmeal. They should extend the length of the sheet and these will make 2 baguettes.
Cut the remaining 2 strips into three rectangles and arrange next to the uncut strips and sprinkle on both sides with ½ tablespoon cornmeal. These will make your rolls. Oil the rolls and loaves lightly on top with 1 tablespoon peanut oil and cover gently with plastic wrap. Let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour until double in bulk and sprinkle with flour. Make lengthwise slashes or criss-cross slashes on the rolls and bread and place in a 450° oven and throw 2 tablespoons of water onto the oven floor, closing the oven door quickly to help create bread with a crustier exterior. Repeat 5 minutes later. Bake for a total of 22 to 25 minutes and remove from the oven when they are brown and sound hollow when tapped with a spoon or knife. Cool on a rack and serve with your favorite cheeses and meats. We had camembert, blue cheese and brie, along with hard salami, prosciutto, and ham, along with a nice red wine. Who could ask for anything more, except for a wonderful French waiter standing by ready to refill your glass!