For several years, I ran a small café and catering company in Bangor. It was about 20 years before the local food movement took hold in northern New England, but my restaurant featured international cuisine prepared with organic Maine ingredients.
The 4 a.m. morning shift was my favorite, and I baked dozens of loaves of French, anadama, whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel and seven-grain bread.
After I closed the shop and began studying food science and human nutrition, I learned the importance of whole foods and fiber to the diet. I started grinding wheat berries to make the flour for the breads I baked. Whole-meal or whole-wheat flour, which includes both the bran and endosperm (or germ), produces denser and chewier bread.
Although nutritionally superior to breads prepared with only white flour, my family never cared for whole wheat French bread. Many a loaf was left to mold, or fed to the birds and rabbits.
On a recent snow day, I decided to try my hand at the craft again.
Traditional French bread is baked in small shops, and technique is most important. The loaves are slashed and then painted with an egg wash. For additional flavor, I sprinkled the dough with a Provencal-type topping of sea salt, garlic powder and herbs. Spraying the oven with water (or placing a pan of water in the oven) helps to produce a crusty loaf with a soft interior. The results, according to my husband, were delicious.
Provencal French Bread
Yields 3 baguettes
1½ cups warm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
5-6 cups bread flour
1 egg white beaten in a small bowl with 1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic powder or garlic salt
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
In the bowl of your food processor or electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the oil, salt and sugar. Add the bread flour and mix until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Remove from bowl, knead slightly. Return to a clean bowl, cover and let rise. After the first rising, you may deflate the dough and return it to the bowl for a second rise.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into three pieces. Knead the dough slightly, then roll out into a circle with the diameter of the length of the bread pan, about 12 inches. Roll the dough up, place the seam side down in the bread pan. Slash the top of each loaf 3 or 4 times. Let rise until double in bulk.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Just before baking, paint the top of the bread with an egg white that has been beaten with a little water. In a small bowl, mix together the sea salt, garlic powder and herbes de Provence. Sprinkle the herb mixture evenly over the top of the dough. Spray the bread with water.
To facilitate the crust, rotate the bread pans and spray the bread with water every five minutes. Let bake with no water for the last five minutes. This bread bakes in about 25 minutes.
Each loaf weighs about 325 grams. Serving size: 1 slice at 60 grams. Nutritional analysis per serving: 137 calories, 4.4 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 1.5 grams fat, 300 mg. sodium, 1.5 grams fiber.