Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts. ~ James Beard
There are few things that are as satisfying to create in your own kitchen as a gorgeous loaf of homemade bread. The aroma of yeast bread baking in the oven is intoxicating and there is nothing quite as memorable as the first bite of steaming hot bread graced with a bit of butter.
Gorgeous artisan breads are one of our main indulgences whenever we travel to Europe. The bakeries are filled with stunning baguettes, boules, and bâtards. It’s honestly one of our favorite things to eat whenever we travel across the pond, particularly to France. Just pass me a loaf of freshly baked crusty French bread, a bit of butter, a hefty piece of local cheese, and a nice bottle of wine; then call me in a few hours.
Since traveling to Europe is not a frequent occurrence, we have to improvise here in the states. That may mean finding a suitable bakery that makes beautiful loaves of breads or teach yourself the art of making artisan breads at home.
I was excited when I was contacted about receiving a copy of Master Baker Lionel Vatinet’s book, A Passion For Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker. Lionel apprenticed for seven years at Les Compagnons due Devoir. This French craftsman’s guild dates back to the Middle Ages, so you can bet they have this bread thing figured out by now. He was also the founding instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute where he instructed talented bakers from all over the world, including bakeries such as La Brea, Panera, and Cottage Lane in New Zealand. In addition, his breads have been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Saveur, and Food & Wine.
Lionel practices his craft every day at his bakery and café, La Farm Bakery in Cary, NC, which he operates with his wife, who is also an artisan bread baker. I was fortunate to meet Lionel in Atlanta earlier this year at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and saw, tasted, and took home several of his gorgeous breads. Artisan bread baking is a passion and it requires practice to get it right and to make it perfect. That’s where this book comes in.
Lionel grew up in a suburb of Paris, so his passion and love for bread was ingrained at an early age. The smells of bread baking throughout the streets of Paris enamored Lionel as a young boy. Growing up with the traditions surrounding bread, whether it was a morning slice of pain de campagne or a good piece of French bread at night to capture every last bit of sauce from his dinner plate, Lionel became passionate about bread. He says this about his signature La Farm Bread, “After all these years, the aroma, the crust, the crumb, and the complex flavor still excite me. And once you begin making your own, I guarantee that it will be your favorite as well.”
This book is a Bible of artisan bread baking and I would suggest that you read through the early chapters before beginning to tackle any of the recipes. This book lays out, in very detailed format, the proper ingredients for bread baking, the special tools you will need, and the seven steps to making beautiful artisan breads at home. It is also full of step-by-step illustrations so that you know how to precisely handle the dough, taste it, and know when the dough is ready for the next step. There are also dough logs and charts to record the temperatures of the dough throughout each process. Baking, especially this type of bread baking, is as much science as it is an art, so follow the directions exactly as written in order to have the best success with your breads. Improvising and guestimates are not recommended.
The recipe for Country French Bread is the one that Lionel usually teaches first to home bakers. Once you have mastered that recipe you can move on to other breads, many of which are based on that recipe. The beginning of the book lays out the steps that are important to the process.
As I was reminded by Thomas Keller when we attended his book signing for Bouchon Bakery earlier this year, start with something simple. So that’s what I did. If you begin with an easier recipe and have great success, you are more likely to press on, so Lionel’s Honey Whole-Wheat Bread was the perfect choice.
This bread took about half a day to make. It rises (or as it’s known in artisan bread terms), ferments three times. I followed the directions precisely, as you should do when baking. I measured everything in grams with my mise en place before I started. I used an instant-read thermometer, which is essential for baking bread and is great for many other uses in your kitchen. Rather than baking the bread in a loaf pan, I decided to shape the dough into a bâtard, so I shaped the dough and used a couche (a linen proofing cloth) and then baked it in a Le Cresuet Dutch oven, which is one of several methods you use to get the beautiful crust, appearance, and taste of an artisan bread. When I checked the temperature of the bread at the suggested time, it was right in the middle of the proper range, so I took it out and placed it on the rack to cool. We like our breads a little less crusty, so I removed mine before it was too brown.
Mr. B and I would both say this is one of the best breads that we’ve ever had. There was a slight sweetness from the honey and a nice balance of white and whole wheat flours. I used King Arthur flour, which is unbromated. Lionel strongly suggests that home bread bakers use unbromated flour and organic whenever possible. We enjoyed this wonderful bread with our Christmas dinner, a French classic dish of Coq au Vin.
In addition to all of the recipes, instructions, and illustrations, there are some interesting stories that Lionel shares in the book about his life. The last chapter of the book includes recipes from his café which will help you find ways to use up all of that bread that you will soon be baking.
Homemade bread is such a treat and it is really fulfilling to create and bake at home. It’s much better for you and the flavor incomparable to almost anything that’s available to purchase. If you are looking for a new kitchen project for the New Year, I would suggest taking up artisan bread baking and begin with this book. It’s also very therapeutic. Start with an easier recipe, gain confidence, and then work your way up through more advanced recipes.
Lionel would like to give a copy of his book to one of our readers to ring in the New Year.
Here’s how you enter to win a copy of A Passion for Bread:Lessons from a Master Baker:
– Leave a comment telling me which breads you have baked in the past or the ones you would love to learn to bake.
Here are five additional ways that you can enter.
1. Like @La Farm Bakery on Facebook. Leave a comment here indicating that you liked the page. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
2. Follow La Farm Bakery on Twitter. Leave a comment here indicating that you are now a follower. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
3. Like Bunkycooks on Facebook. Leave a comment here indicating you liked the page. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
4. Follow @Bunkycooks on Twitter. Leave a comment here indicating that you are now a follower. If you are already a follower, you can leave a comment saying you are.
** You can have a total of 6 entries, however, each comment needs to be left separately to count as one entry each. **
This giveaway ends at 5 pm EST on Monday January 6, 2014.
I will notify the winner by email. Please get back to me with your shipping information within 48 hours or I will have to choose another winner.
Good luck and happy baking!
Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
Yield: 1 Batard
Prep Time: 3 1/2 hours
Cook Time: 40 minutes
This bread is one of the favorites at La Farm Bakery. Parents say that their children love it for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Lionel suggests that you use local honey in the recipe, if at all possible. When I prepared the loaf, I did not let it brown on the exterior quite as much since we prefer a softer crust. The temperature of the bread was right on target, so it was perfectly cooked. If you have any doubt about the doneness, be sure to check the temperature (as directed in the recipe) with an instant-read thermometer. I also used another method to bake the bread since I formed the bread without a loaf pan. All of the possible methods for baking this bread are described in Lionel's book.
12.5 ounces (354 grams) or 2 3/4 cups unbleached, unbromated white bread flour
3.5 ounces (100 grams) or 2/3 cup unbromated whole-wheat bread flour
0.31 ounce (9 grams) or 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
0.01 ounce (3 grams) or 3/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
11.26 ounces (320 grams) or 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
1.1 ounces (30 grams) or 1 1/2 Tablespoons honey (local honey, if possible)
Scale all of the ingredients. Using an instant-read thermometer, take the temperature of the water. It should read between 65 and 70 degrees F. Record it in your dough log.
2. Mixing and kneading
(These instructions are for using a hand mixer.)
Place the white and whole-wheat flours in a medium mixing bowl. Add the salt and yeast, making sure that they do not touch each other.
Add the honey to the water, stirring to blend well. This ensures that rather than sticking to the bowl, all of the honey will be incorporated into the water.
Pour half of the water-honey mixture into the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add the flour mixture. Then, attach the dough hook to the mixer. Begin mixing on low speed (“1” on most mixers) and then immediately start to add the remaining water-honey mixture in a slow, steady stream. Continue on low speed for 5 minutes.
Taste the dough to see whether you have forgotten the salt. If so, add it now and mix for another minute.
Stop the mixer and move the dough hook out of the way. Using your bowl scraper, scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the ingredients are combined in the dough.
Return the dough to its original position Increase the speed to medium-low (“2” on most mixers) and mix until the dough is soft and smooth, with a most tacky surface, about 2 minutes.
3. First Fermentation
Using an instant-read thermometer, take the temperature of the dough. It should be between 72 and 80 degrees F. If it is not, immediately make the necessary adjustments (tips in the book - either ferment if the temp is too cool or place in the refrigerator if too warm). Record the temperature of the dough and the time you finished this step in the Dough Log, and the time the first fermentation should be completed. This dough will be in the first fermentation for 90 minutes, with a fold halfway through.
Lightly dust a large bowl (preferably glass to allow observation of the process) with flour. The bowl should be large enough to allow the dough to rise without coming in contact with the plastic wrap that will cover it. Transfer the dough to the bowl, smooth side up, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, (75 to 80 degrees F) draft-free place for 45 minutes.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.
Uncover the dough and, using cupped hands, pat the dough into a thick square. Lift the right corners and fold them to the center of the square, lightly patting the seam down. Lift the left corners and fold them into the center of the square, again lightly patting the seam down. Repeat this process with the top[ two corners and then the bottom two corners, meeting in the middle of the square and lightly patting own the seams.
Lightly flour the bowl and return the dough to it, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and return to a warm (75 to 80 degrees F), draft-free place for an additional 45 minutes.
There is just one loaf, so you skip to step 5
Lightly butter the interior of a 10-by-4-by-3-inch loaf pan. Add just enough flour to coat, holding the pan upside down and tapping the bottom to eliminate any excess. Set aside.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.
Uncover the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is very sticky, lightly flour your hands, but do not add more flour to the dough. If the dough adheres to the table, use your bench scraper to life it, do not pull and stretch the dough.
Using a flat hand, lightly press down on the dough, forming a large rectangle. Then, using your hands, gently pick up the dough to make sure it’s not sticking to the work surface. if is is, lightly flour the surface. then carefully shape the dough into a batard. Transfer the loaf to the prepared pan, seam side down. Cover with a linen towel.
6. Final fermentation
Place the pan in a warm (75 to 80 degree F) draft-free place for 1 hour.
(* There are several ways to bake the bread to achieve the proper crust. With a loaf pan, you want to use a stainless steel bowl to cover and bake the bread.) About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, move one oven rack to the lowest rung and remove the other. Place a large baking stone on the rack and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
To determine whether the dough is ready to be baked, uncover and gently make a small indentation in the center of the dough with your fingertip. If the indentation slowly and evenly disappears, the bread is ready to bake. If this does not happen, specific instructions are in the book, but start with an additional 15 minutes of fermentation.
For this particular bread, dust the top with flour. Working quickly and using a lame or single-edge razor blade, score the top of the loaf. Cut in quick, decisive slashes, marking into the dough no more than 1/8 inch.
Transfer the pan onto the center of the stone, taking care not to touch the hot surface.
Quickly cover with the stainless-steel mixing bowl. Immediately close the oven door. Bake for 10 minutes; then, lift the edge of the bowl with the tip of a small knife and use oven mitts to carefully remove the hot bowl. Continue to bake until the bread is chestnut-brown and sounds hollow when popped out of the pan and tapped on the bottom, about 30 minutes more. (It is a good idea to check after the bread has been baking for about 20 minutes to make sure it is browning evenly. If not rotate the bread.) If you are concerned about the bread’s doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer from the bottom of the bread into the center. If it reads 185 to 210 degrees F the bread is fully baked.
Transfer the loaf to a cooking rack and let it cool at least an hour before removing from the pan and cutting with a serrated life or wrapping for storage.
Reprinted from A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker
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