Last night, I hosted my new book club for our very first meeting. I’d been the one to choose the book/host and I’d chosen Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell.
I chose the book based on the glowing recommendation of one of my clients (thank you Erin!) and found it charming, funny and oddly inspiring. The book is a memoir of sorts, penned by Julie Powell after her blog became wildly famous a few years ago.
Essentially, the year before she turned 30 and lacking any sense of purpose or direction in her career, the author set for herself the task of cooking every single recipe in Julia Child’s iconic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking in exactly one year….and created a blog to report on her misadventures.
Anyone who knows me even a bit can likely spot some of the parallels to my own life — and while I don’t plan to quit my job anytime soon, I will certainly confess to indulging (as I’m guessing many a blogger has) in the occasional fantasy about parlaying this little hobby into a grand career as a writer or publishing a joint cookbook project with JiT’s photos or something.
Needless to say, Julie & Julia was an uplifting read for me. As it was for most of my fellow book clubbers. Though none of them enjoy cooking nearly as much as I did, they managed to tolerate all of the recipe descriptions (which I found fascinating) in order to hear about Julie’s next meltdown.
Plus, the book provided the theme for our dinner… I made Julia Child’s famous Potage Parmentier (Potato & Leek soup), and loaves of fresh-baked french bread — I did NOT use Julia’s famous 16-page recipe for the bread. Since I made dinner after working a full day, I used a recipe I found a few weeks ago that takes less than 2 hours start-to-finish. Technically this recipe won’t produce a “french” baguette, but the results are easy to make even for a yeast-bread newbie like myself — and utterly delicious hot from the oven. I added cheddar cheese and some italian seasonings to this version — which went fabulously with the potato soup.
The soup recipe I made exactly as I found it, so click here to see that. The bread I tweaked, so my recipe is below. Now I know a few of my readers (Rachel and Mandy) may be thinking to themselves: “Yeah right, she’s crazy if she thinks I’m going to bake bread,” and maybe I am crazy, but not because of the bread thing. I swear that anyone can do this. My only caution is that anyone near the kitchen when you pull fresh-baked homemade bread out of the oven might tackle you trying to get to the bread since it smells so good…and then fall to their knees to worship you after they taste it. So beware.
Oh– one FINAL note before the recipe — apologies that I can’t provide a pic. JiT wisely vacated the scene when he realized there would be 6 women in the house drinking wine all night. And by the time he got home the bread was long gone. Next time we’ll get a photo!
“Fast” French Bread
1 cup 110 degree water (warm tap water is usually about right, check w/a thermometer)
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet active dry yeast
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
Optional: 1/2 cup cheddar or parmesean cheese, shredded; sprinkling of fresh or dried italian herbs/spices such as oregano, basil, etc.
Combine warm water, yeast and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular mixing bowl). In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt and add to the yeast mixer. Using the mixer’s dough hook, set mixer to low speed and mix for about 5 minutes until an smooth dough forms. (Alternately, mix by hand using a wooden spoon to combine and then knead the dough by hand until smooth).
Cover bowl and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.
Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16×12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8×12 inch rectangles. If desired, spread cheese and spices evenly over each square.
Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at the long side to make a long baguette, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Mix egg white with 1 tablespoon water; brush evenly over tops of loaves.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool (or, more likely, devour immediately).