If you were fortunate enough, you might have known Chef Paola Bugli, the room chef (casino talk for head chef) at Stalla, the Italian place at the Beau Rivage. She is a great chef and an interesting person, and I was sorry to see her sail away to Las Vegas.
Before she left, her mother came for an extended visit from Italy. One day they were talking, and her mom asked, “How do they do it?” Paola asked her mom what she meant, and her mom replied, “These Americans, they don’t eat bread!” Of course, what she meant is that we don’t eat real bread, Italian bread, or French baguettes like the Europeans do. The thin white stuff so many Americans eat just doesn’t compare to the real thing: a chewy, crusty baguette.
There are some good bakeries around that make good bread, like Le Bakery, Henry’s Bakery and Café, and Electrik Maid Bake Shop, but I wonder why more people don’t make their own bread. It’s a bit of a mystery!
Home baking is not that hard. There are six basic steps to making good bread: mixing Ingredients, rising (fermentation), kneading, second rising, baking, and cooling. It may be an oversimplification. It does take about an hour and a half, and it is a bit messy (lots of flour all over the countertop), but, if you are craving really good fresh bread, it’s well worth your time and effort.
It is generally agreed that Julia Child’s (the chef who brought French cooking to America) French bread recipe is the best one for beginners. Just follow the recipe step by step.
- ½ oz. fresh yeast or ¼ oz. dry-active yeast
- 4 tablespoons warm water (not over 100º F)
- 1 lb. strong plain flour
- 2¼ teaspoons salt
- ½ pint (1 cup) tepid water (70º F to 74º F )
Combine the yeast in warm water. Measure out the flour into a large mixing bowl. When the yeast is liquefied, add it to the flour with the salt and water and mix well to form the basic dough. Allow the dough to rest on a clean surface for a few minutes. Next, knead the dough vigorously for about 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky, so use extra flour on the cutting board. Let it rest for 4 minutes, then knead again for a few minutes. Cover the dough and let it rise for 3 hours. Deflate the dough, fold it over and rework it into a loaf, and let it rise again for 2 hours. Repeat this process one more time and let the bread rise for 2 more hours.
Preheat oven to 450 f. Slash the dough cross-wise, moisten the dough with cold water using a brush, place in oven, and bake for 25 minutes (moisten again 2 more times while baking) Let the bread cool for 2 to 3 hours, and grab some really good butter (the Lee International Market in Biloxi sells canned French butter), slice the bread and dive it! There is nothing better than fresh bread and good butter!